Matthew Norman's Media Diary

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The Independent Online

With Martin Bashir facing a possible contempt charge for refusing to answer questions in the Michael Jackson trial, this seems the moment to consider how he came to make the documentary that led directly to the Jackson prosecution. Several years ago, the journalist Jonathan Margolis was called by Uri Geller, whose biography he had written. Uri had Martin Bashir in the house, he explained, begging for his close chum Jackson's phone number, and saying he wanted to make a show on him, and what did he think? Well, said Jonathan, a man much respected by friends for his astute judgement, I can't see any harm in it, can you? On this basis, Uri handed over the number. A year later, Uri rang again to report that Mr Bashir was denying having suggested a £50,000 donation to an Aids charity in return for the number, so Uri had refused to help him court the singer. When Mr Bashir had heard this, said Uri, he produced a letter, purportedly from Princess Diana, telling whomsoever it concerned that her interview with Martin Bashir had changed her life for the better, and was the best decision she ever made. When Uri remained unsure, Mr Bashir burst into tears. He had to be honest, he said, but his career was in terrible shape, and his children almost without clothes. A kind-hearted man, Uri finally succumbed and promised to help facilitate the deal. After hearing all this, Jonathan nipped out for a coffee, and ran into a TV producer acquaintance, to whom he began to to relate the details. He had barely begun when the chap raised an interruptive hand. "Don't tell me, don't tell me," he said, "he got out the Diana letter, burst into tears and said he couldn't feed his kids." What an operator he is, this Bashir, and we ask the court to show the clemency for which American justice is so well respected across the globe.

* Glorious news from Doughty Street. Against all the odds, Kimberly Quinn is shortly to return as publisher of The Spectator. This comes as a timely confidence boost just when Kim's a little glum at losing out on the Celebrity Mum of the Year title to Kerry McFadden. As for how she'll get on with Andrew Neil, who's been filling in so ably in her maternal absence, it seems indelicate to speculate. Andrew is one of the seven heterosexual male journalists in Britain never rumoured to have had relations with her. But it's early days, and lest there be any confusion, I am asked to make it crystal that the roots of Kimberly's olive skin lie in her Jewishness, and she has no genetic links to any part of the subcontinent. We wish them an enchanting working relationship, and look forward to reporting on their union.

Meanwhile, the fallout from the TV documentary about the Speccie continues. In it, Bruce Anderson was gallant enough to describe Petronella Wyatt's defunct "Singular Life" column - in which she wrote about every aspect of her life except the one bit anyone was vaguely interested in - as the worst in newspaper history. This brings to mind the Fawlty Towers scene in which an American guest describes the hotel as the crummiest dump in the world. "No, no, I won't have that," barks a furious Major, "there's a place in Eastbourne..." Nominations for a column worse than Petsy's are very welcome.

* Speaking of which, hats off to the Daily Mirror, whose new editor, Richard Wallace, sacked me from writing one contender last summer.

Richard is fighting the ensuing circulation slump with gumption, and last week's sequence of spreads on Eamonn Holmes's departure from GMTV was inspired. Whether eight or nine pages could do more than scratch the surface seems a pedantic quibble, and I loved the restraint with which the paper puffed its scoop. Having said that, "The story they all wanted" hardly gave the flavour of the frantic fight within the business for Eamonn's musings. The editor of this paper had to be heavily sedated on being outbid, while his counterpart at the FT is undergoing therapy for post-traumatic stress syndrome, and is thought unlikely to be well again until the autumn.

I hope Jim Naughtie isn't brooding too much on his slip of the tongue, when during an interview with Labour's Ed Balls he said: "if we win the election...". Famously once, when Michael Heseltine suggested that Brian Redhead was a Labour voter, Jim's predecessor on Today called for a moment's silence while Hezza reflected in shame at this invasion of his ballot-box privacy. But that was all a long time ago, and if today's Today presenter prefers to be more transparent about his affiliations, surely this counts as progress?

* Of course if Jim disagrees, and would like to appear less parti pris, he could always take tuition from Alastair Campbell, who remained so studiedly neutral while a civil servant. Since leaving Whitehall things haven't gone so well for Ali, alas, so I'm distressed to learn that he has cancelled a speaking engagement before the Parliamentary Press Gallery this Thursday, and refused two alternative dates. As an industry, we do what we can to keep the poor lamb relatively stable, offering advice, encouragement and even paid work - so this hauteur seems wildly misplaced. It can't always be a one-way affair, Ali. Now and then, you do have to give something back.