Matthew Norman's Media Diary
Monday 14 March 2005
Now that he's embarked on his Barbra Streisand-esque, positively final comeback tour, and with his election campaign running so smoothly, it pains me to raise the question - but when can we expect Alastair Campbell to take legal action over allegations in Piers Morgan's memoirs?
Now that he's embarked on his Barbra Streisand-esque, positively final comeback tour, and with his election campaign running so smoothly, it pains me to raise the question - but when can we expect Alastair Campbell to take legal action over allegations in Piers Morgan's memoirs? The claim that Ali once boasted of having written the PM's "People's Princess" oration for him is such a gift to Tory Central Office that I can't conceive why they haven't produced a campaign poster featuring Blair as Lambchop to Ali's Sheri Lewis. Even more damaging is a remark Morgan reports Campbell making at the end of the 1999 Champions League final. "The game was very dull until the last five minutes when [Manchester] United scored twice to beat a shattered Bayern Munich team, who just collapsed on the turf face down like they'd been shot," recalls Morgan, who was at the Nou Camp that night in Ali's company. "'Don't you love seeing Germans like that?' said Campbell." On the off chance that Gerhard Schröder wouldn't be wildly amused, a furious denial from Campbell would be helpful. As for Ali's tribute on Alan Clark's death, that "he was the acceptable face of the Conservatives", here I am bewildered. For all his wit and charm, Clark was, as I'm always banging on about, a passionate and unironical admirer of Adolf Hitler, naming his dogs after members of Hitler's entourage, and referring to him by a nickname, Wolf, used only by his most adoring inner circle... the last man, in other words, to chuckle at references to dead German soldiers splayed over the Barcelona pitch. From personal experience, Ali has never been wildly reticent when it comes to issuing legal threats. Borrowing from an amendment to traditional natural justice made while he was in his pomp at No 10, people will have every right to draw any inference they wish from his unwonted silence.
* Meanwhile, I am distressed by a reference on page 330, on which Morgan invites Alan Sugar to forgo his fee (donated to charity) for a business column. "You must think I'm getting soft in my old age," is Sir Alan's reply. "You pay idiots like Matthew Norman hundreds of thousands of pounds [in fact, several million] to write a load of crap, but want me to do it for nothing. Stick your £20,000 up your arse. I'm leaving." The pain is still too raw, but we will come back to this most telegenic of reality TV stars if and when it begins to fade.
* Returning briefly to the Champions League, I enjoyed Clive Tyldesley's commentary on Chelsea's breathtaking win over Barcelona last week. "It's been a couple of centuries since any Chelsea side beat Arsenal," observed Tyldesley, the ensuing pause punctuated only by a faint chirruping in his earpiece. "But if they can pull it off here tonight, I think it would cap their quarter-final win over Arsenal last year." Lovely stuff, and nice also to hear Tyldesley refer warmly on air to his erstwhile colleague Ron Atkinson.
* Hats off to the BBC's Natasha Kaplinsky on becoming Newscaster of the Year at the Television and Radio Industries Club awards. Of all the myriad prizes handed out at these functions (and there is now an annual Awards Awards ceremony, honouring those who organise awards ceremonies), the one for doing what is known to kindergarten teachers as "reading out loud" has special significance. Kaplinsky is, by all accounts, a most loyal and delightful person, and we rejoice at her triumph.
* A new daily gossip column in The Sun catches the eye. It is called The Whip, and we'll consider its merits the moment the people at Bletchley Park have cracked the code and translated it into English.
* Not once, but twice in the same week, meanwhile, I squeal with amazement at articles in the Daily Mail. First, to Melanie Phillips, whose column, headlined "A Glimmer of Hope" (referring to the apparent buds of democracy flowering in the Lebanon) was almost entirely bereft of the searing fury and apocalyptic warnings that make her work such a perpetual treat. Never lose the rage, Mad Mel. It is your gift to us all.
* Finally - and this one beggars belief - to a searing rebuke to his own editor from the Mail's Quentin Letts. Nominally writing about the Newsnight row between Paxo and John Reid, he dwells at length on the minister's potty mouth, quoting him reacting to being given his current job with the words, "Fuck, it's Health". Well, yes, that is rather shocking, and Letts is right to take a dim view. "Mr Reid has a weakness for bad language," he goes on. "It's the kind of attitude that is a turn-off to millions of voters." And this in the very week Private Eye reported that Paul Dacre now uses the "c" word so often that Mail conferences have acquired the sobriquet "the Vagina Monologues". You have to admire Letts' balls in launching this Exocet at his boss, so we'll pass over the etiquette implications of lacerating a man in his own newspaper and hope it all blows over soon.
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