Pandora

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On this, the final day of the Liberal Democrat conference in Harrogate, Pandora would like to salute Malcolm Bruce and Conrad Russell. Earl Russell's book An Intellectual Person's Guide to Liberalism has been a best-seller at the conference, while Malcolm Bruce MP has had a new addition to his family. Bruce's much-younger wife, Rosemary, has given birth to a baby girl, named Heather Catriona. Rosemary was in labour for two-and-a-half days; and that's about two-and-a-half days too long for some people in the Lib Dems.

KIRSAN ILYUMZHINOV is a name to strike fear into the hearts of kings and queens. Kirsan is President of the Republic of Kalmykia, on the Caspian Sea. He is also president of Fide, the international chess federation. The 36-year-old multi-millionaire presides over a development called Chess City, which his critics allege was constructed using funds from Moscow central government earmarked for infrastructure and social development in the republic. Last month the World Chess Championships, for which Kirsan put up $3m prize money, finished in Las Vegas. Now one semi-finalist, the Romanian Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu, has complained that his $138,000 prize money cheque has bounced...

The television producer Linda McDougal has enjoyed considerable success recently with political programmes such as Westminster Women. Her decision to go political was, she admits, influenced by her marriage to the left- wing Labour MP Austin Mitchell. At a conference this week at Goldsmiths College to mark 10 years of cameras in the Commons, she explained: "I'd kept away from politics in case I ruined Austin's chances of high office, but then he did that for himself, so I thought I'd join in."

BOOKER NOMINEES Michael Frayn and Ahdaf Soueif could be seen relaxing together at Soho's Union Club on Tuesday, at the launch of the Penguin Book of Twentieth Century Essays. Talk was focused on the day's Booker news. Pandora found Soueif clutching a bouquet of flowers, a trifle overwhelmed but happy to talk about her book, The Map of Love, which deals with cross- cultural relationships and the links between Western and Middle Eastern cultures. Soueif, an Egyptian, was hopeful that East and West could learn more about each other on more than just an individual level. However, on the issue of the West's attitude to Iraq she was uncompromising: "I think the sanctions against Iraq are wicked and cruel. The West should back off." Pandora notes that the chairman of Booker's judging panel, the Labour MP Gerald Kaufman, is very much of the opposite opinion.

Meanwhile, Salman Rushdie seemed to be coping well with the news that his novel, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, didn't make the Booker shortlist. Rushdie is famously pugnacious about prizes, but rather than sulking he spent Tuesday evening at Conran's Bluebird restaurant to relaunch his children's book Haroun and the Sea of Stories. "I've been monitoring my own response to the news," he told the gathering; "I'm surprised how un-disappointed I am." Later, in a pep talk to the publishing faithful, Rushdie said wistfully, "Sometimes I think Haroun may be the only book that will remain of me..." Oh come now. It's only a prize, Salman.

THE LARGER-THAN-LIFE rocker Meat Loaf may not be to all ladies' tastes. A tale from his early career appears to bear this out. While acting in the stage version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Mr Loaf received a surprise visit from the film goddess Raquel Welch, who had gone backstage to congratulate Tim Curry, who played Frank N Furter. But instead of an appreciative Curry, Welch found a naked Loaf. In his autobiography, Meat Loaf: To Hell and Back, the star recalls his clumsy reaction: "I'm standing there naked, and my only comment was, `Oh, it's Jane Fonda'."

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