RICHARD BRANSON'S diary of his recent attempt to circumnavigate the globe in a balloon has been widely excerpted - with one exception. That is the sign-off to his plea to Libyan strongman Colonel Gaddafi, who had first granted permission to cross Libyan territory, and then rescinded it in mid-flight. "Because of this emergency condition, we simply do not know how to avoid crossing your airspace. We hope that you will grant us emergency permission under these circumstances via your air traffic control services," wrote a desperate Branson. The tycoon ended his missive most endearingly: "I am sir your most obedient servant."
ERIC CLAPTON'S seminal Sixties band Cream return to the spotlight in Disraeli Gears, a new history of the band. Author John Platt explains that "supergroup" Cream, whose performing life was comparatively short, almost separated before they began because of the animosity between drummer Ginger Baker and bassist Jack Bruce. It seems that Baker had already fired Bruce from a band before the birth of Cream. At the height of the tension between the two musicians, reports Platt, Ginger even threatened Bruce on stage with a knife. Nevertheless, Clapton insisted that Bruce, a fellow member of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, join the new group, ensuring that plenty of "creative tension" would produce exceptional music.
NO LESS than five suggested Blair New Year's resolutions have arrived from vociferous gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell: "to get a decent haircut; rediscover socialism; appoint Mandelson ambassador for life to Kazakhstan; give John Prescott the power and resources to implement an integrated public transport policy; abolish all forms of discrimination based on age/religion/ sexuality and HIV status". A more measured but equally topical resolution offered by MP Norman Baker, the Lib Dem transport spokesman: "to find out what the word `environment' means". Labour MP Paul Flynn, on the other hand, urges Blair to "stop taking the tabloids next year". Finally, independent publisher and author Jay Landesman suggests that Blair's resolution should be "to convince Peter Lilley to cross the floor, join the Cabinet and take Mandelson's place at his right hand. Above all, Tony should resist the urge to resign."
JULIET STEVENSON (pictured) is to star in a National Theatre production of Noel Coward's Private Lives next year, Pandora can reveal for the first time. A previous attempt to stage the play with Fiona Shaw in the lead was abandoned; Shaw went on to star in the National's adaptation of Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. The key question is who will play the male lead in Coward's play. It was this problem that scuppered the National's last attempt. The role demands an exceptional actor aged about 40. Pandora's source says all the chief British candidates are too busy earning millions in Hollywood.