Exclusive: Eric spills his beans

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It's time for a few exclusives on the People Page. For a start I can exclusively reveal that football agent Eric Hall is the secret lovechild of Lew Grade and Margaret Thatcher. Lew once confided that shocking fact to me as we shared a large Havana and I promised I wouldn't break the news until the day of his funeral, but I got tired of waiting.

Eric was in Oxford on Monday to make a speech at the Oxford Union on his favourite subject: himself. This was the latest in a series of talks organised by the university's Football Supporters' Society and Eric was following closely on the heels of Graham Taylor, who had apparently gone down very well despite the fact that he is, in Eric's considered opinion "an idiot". I think there's a bit of a history there.

Over a pre-speech dinner at the Randolph Hotel, Eric recalled his last speaking engagement in the city, when he addressed the Jewish Society at a synagogue. "There was a poster saying, `Chicken soup and Eric Hall - pounds 4'. They could at least have given me top billing!" cackled Eric, who was accompanied by his long-suffering assistant Tony, who has heard Eric's stories more times than anyone really should have to. (The chicken soup gag alone was reprocessed three times during the course of the evening.) Eric also bemoaned Labour's victory and said he was just coming to terms with it. He reckons they'll last two years at the most before they get kicked out, which perhaps explains why he's a football agent rather than a political commentator.

Then he gave me an exclusive. "This is an exclusive," he said, revealing that he intends to take Fifa, football's world governing body, to court to challenge its new rule that all football agents must lodge a bond of pounds 100,000 with it. Eric maintains it's a restraint of trade. "Someone's got to fight it and I'm going to be the one," he said.

It was time for Eric to make his speech, which he hadn't prepared, preferring to busk it. Was he nervous? "I never get nervous," he said, before making a quick trip to the gents. As we made the two-minute walk to the Union, I asked him where he bought his orange check jacket (matched for the occasion with bright orange shirt and black trousers). "Yves St Laurent. They sponsor me," he said, clearly proud of his little deal, before pulling open his jacket to reveal a label saying `Jasper Conran'.

Once through the hallowed portals of the Oxford Union and once Eric had made another quick trip to the gents, it was time to enter the library, the scene for the evening's oration. Eric had told me he was expecting an audience of around 250, although the Football Supporters' Society president, David Hills, had told me he expected between 50 and 100. So the 20 people in attendance were something of a disappointment, but Eric seemed to take it in his stride.

He quickly launched himself into The Eric Hall Story, a masterpiece of patter which begins with the teenage Eric packing parcels in Tin Pan Alley alongside Reg Dwight, later to become Elton John. Then it progresses through the years of record business plugging and promotion, taking in Marc Bolan, Queen, the Sex Pistols and Frank Sinatra, until it comes to the point when he meets the Spurs footballer Steve Perryman and decides to be a football agent. It's a good story and Eric seemed to enjoy it as much as his audience.

It was time for questions from the floor. Does Eric support a club? "No, my players support me. "Is it true he only left home when he was 40? "When I was 45 actually. I've always been a single-ish kind of guy. Would he do a deal with a 15-year-old? "I'd do a deal with a nine-year-old!" And he revealed a monster exclusive - that he would be taking Fifa to court. Suddenly my exclusive had become considerably less exclusive. And then it was all over. "Thank you very much, I really have enjoyed it. And if you want to have a whip-round, that's fine by me," said Eric, who wasn't being paid for the evening.

Afterwards I asked Tony what he made of it all. "I can't believe it," he said. "No one asked about bungs!"

The writing

in the book

There was another Cup Final this week and it was a moment of personal triumph for Bobby Robson when his Barcelona team lifted the European Cup Winners' Cup. Rumours have been rife that The Nicest Man In Football is due to be fired at the end of the season and according to the Sun on Thursday, Robson was going to place the trophy on the desk of the club's president "as his way of showing he is the man for the job".

"I don't know where they got that from," says a somewhat bemused Bobby, who is the secret lovechild of Sir Alf Ramsey and Coco the Clown. "I have another year on my contract and I'm trying to establish what my position will be here next year. There's all this talk about bringing someone else in, but it's always like that at Barcelona, I guess." This is Bobby's seventh season of happy, self-imposed exile from our shores since the glories and ultimate disappointment of Italia '90 and he still misses all the things that make England unique: HP sauce, fish and chips in a bag, Sunday roast, Don Howe, that kind of thing. "But I don't miss English football because Spanish football is terrific, it's colossal," he says.

I can exclusively reveal that Bobby has read Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch not just once, but twice. "It was bought for me by my children for my Christmas box when it came out," he says. "I loved it. He wrote a great book, that guy." He hasn't seen the film yet.

Small talk for

social workers

The cash register rang to the tune of pounds 27,500 for Orlando Figes on Wednesday night when he picked up the 10th NCR Book Award for A People's Tragedy, his history of the Russian revolution. The book weighs in at around 900 pages and it took him three-and-a-half years to research and three years to write. Sadly I didn't quite have time to finish it on Thursday evening before speaking to him, so I had to ask him for a precis.

"You could fairly describe it as the first comprehensive post-Cold War history of the revolution," says Orlando, who is a lecturer in European history at Cambridge and who was going to be the secret love child of Benny and Bjorn from Abba until someone pointed out to me that that was Fernando and not Orlando. I can exclusively reveal that A People's Tragedy is probably the first book on the Russian revolution to contain the startling fact that Russian peasants had a custom of calming baby boys by sucking on their penis. Presumably there weren't too many social workers around in those days.

Accidental apex

for cubist Carol

"I'm looking forward to it, it'll be a good lark, really. It's not a sort of ultimate ambition or anything like that," says Carol Vorderman of the news that she'll be presenting National Lottery Live on Wednesday 4 June while Carol Smillie, the usual presenter, is on holiday.

Carol first came to fame as the numerical genius on Countdown, the letters- and-numbers game on Channel 4 every afternoon. A graduate in engineering from Cambridge, she was living in Leeds selling computers when Yorkshire Television was looking for someone to fill the mental arithmetic slot on what would be the channel's first ever programme. Her mother decided she should apply and wrote the letter for her.

"I'd never wanted to be involved in the media - it had never even flitted across my mind," says Carol, who is the secret lovechild of Albert Einstein and Sophia Loren and has one of the dirtiest laughs I've come across in a long time. "I decided early on that I wouldn't do maths on any other programme. I wouldn't be a performing seal. I thought all I'd ever do was go round doing the cube root of seven-digit numbers or something." I can exclusively reveal that Carol politely declined my request to multiply all six winning numbers in this week's lottery ("I only go up to 999 on Countdown and that's enough for me") but she did reveal that the chances of winning the lottery with a single line are just under 14 million to one. "Not a lot, really, is it?" she says.

A gardener can be quite artless

The Chelsea Flower Show is nearly upon us and for Gardeners' World presenter and all-round green-fingered talking head Alan Titchmarsh it's an annual pilgrimage that he's been making for 30 years. In that time he's seen a few trends come and go.

"Gardening is as much a prey to fashion as the catwalk," says Alan, who is the secret lovechild of Percy Thrower and a Creeping Buttercup. "This year there seems to be a great emphasis on the exotic, but the overall feel is one you might call nouveau rustique. Very romantic and terribly Country Living. Artlessly artful, do you know what I mean?"

I think he might mean artfully artless, but he's the expert. He started gardening for a living in 1964 after leaving school to be an apprentice gardener. "It was really sniffed at by my school friends," he says. "I tried to say I was in horticulture because it sounded better. But nowadays gardening is much more revered by everybody. People have become much more aware of their surroundings. When the summers are good, people realise there is that room outside that they haven't made the most of."

I can exclusively reveal that the name Titchmarsh in fact means "goats' meadow". "But I don't keep goats," says Alan.

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