Pandora

WHEN PANDORA received a call from someone claiming to be an Islington constituent of Chris Smith MP who had been telephoned and asked to lend his name to a letter-to-the-editor defending Smith, but actually penned by a volunteer member of his staff, it was hard to give this tale any credence. Sure enough, a call to Stewart Godfrey, Smith's constituency agent, brought a swift denial that any such practise was taking place. "I'm the only paid member of staff here and I deny that I made that call or asked anyone else to," said Godfrey. "As far as I'm concerned there's been no criticism of Chris in the local papers for months, even years." Sadly, the same claim is not entirely true about the coverage Saint Chris has received from the national press.

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IS FOOTBALL manager Harry Redknapp about to leave West Ham to take up the helm at Blackburn Rovers, which Roy Evans departed last week? Pandora hears that Blackburn have offered Redknapp four times his current salary (rumoured to be about pounds 4,000 a week). Although he's loath to leave his current position, he's thinking hard about this glittering incentive. The recent spat between him and West Ham chairman, Peter Storrie, may influence his decision about whether or not to move north. When Redknapp described the West Ham board's sale of Andy Impie as a move "made by people who know nothing about football", Storrie took umbrage. After an emergency board meeting on Monday, Redknapp appeared unrepentant. If he was feeling at all restless before, the Blackburn offer might well prove irresistible. Unfortunately, Redknapp did not return Pandora's phone calls yesterday.

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AFTER THE fiasco at the recent Labour Conference, Richard Branson is obviously feeling the mounting pressure to improve his rail services. He's just come up with a novel way to motivate the workers at Aston, in Birmingham, who are building trains for his West Coast line together with Fiat Ferroviaria. He distributed 200 single Virgin Atlantic tickets to the US, but kept the return halves. They will be handed out only if the trains are completed to deadline. Let's hope none of the Aston workers are thinking of emigrating.

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YESTERDAY PANDORA reported on Rupert Steiner's "first break" selling stories about his schoolmates to the tabloids. Lo and behold, another exciting update on Steiner's forthcoming book launch has just arrived in the post, including an invitation to a party on 14 December hosted by John Jay, the Sunday Times Business News editor. "This party will be one of the largest gatherings of millionaires and entrepreneurs for some time," a note assures us, and helpfully includes names of those great men who have already promised to attend, including Richard Branson, Bernie Ecclestone, David Sullivan and Peter Stringfellow. Pandora wouldn't miss this one for the world! Of course, in view of young Steiner's talent for flogging stories about his chums to the tabloids, it seems wise to wear a disguise to the bash.

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"YOU WOULDN'T sell your own grandmother," runs the charming advertisement from employment firm Robert Half International, next to a picture of a sweet old granny. "But how about a relative stranger?" Sure, why not, you hear yourself saying, as you read on, why not sell a stranger or two? "You're a sharp, successful salesperson, but you've still got ethics." Tons of ethics, now how much will you give me for this lovely little stranger?

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AFTER THE New York premiere of the film version of Little Voice, stars Michael Caine and Jane Horrocks are both being touted as possible Oscar winners. At the launch party earlier this week, Caine adopted the role of Mr. Modesty, telling one reporter that he'd been absent from films for two years "mostly sitting at home reading scripts and generally being a pain in the neck to Shakira". However, Shakira Caine (pictured), who attended the party with the couple's daughter Natasha, was having none of it. "He wasn't a pain in the neck. He was adorable, like a little boy, out there in the garden. You shuld have seen him." We'll all be able to see Caine mugging it up with his old chum Sean Connery in the March issue of Vanity Fair.

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