Julian Hall's Edinburgh Festival diary

The Book Festival talk by Jonathan Powell, former Downing Street Chief of Staff, was packed with fascinating anecdotes about the Northern Ireland peace process. He recalled the logistics of the first meeting between Sinn Fein and the DUP: "The DUP wanted to sit opposite Sinn Fein to signify that they were antagonists, but Gerry Adams wanted both parties side by side, to look like colleagues. In the end, we opted for a diamond-shaped table so they could be both opposite and beside."

Also, towards the end of the process, when told that Ian Paisley was in a bad mood, Powell feared the worst. Until, that is, his adviser explained that it was because Paisley had been "up all night Scottish-Irish dancing with Martin McGuinness".

Frank Woodley breaks a guitar every night in his show Possessed. To avoid paying import tax on the 65 guitars he brought over from his native Australia, the comedian had to prove that he isn't selling them in the UK and not taking them out of the country. Despite explaining to customs what he does with the instruments, it took some highly strung negotiations before officials relented.

Martin Bell told his Book Festival audience that he "accepts so many invitations and solicitations that my wife said, if I was a woman, I'd be permanently pregnant". One of his roles is that of Unicef ambassador: "They have more famous people representing them than I," said Bell, "including Robbie Williams and David Beckham, but they can't send them to war zones. I consider myself as the expendable ambassador."

juleshall@hotmail.com

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