Matthew Norman: What would Sigmund make of the Quake over the Cake?


It wasn't quite the Thriller in Manila, and it may have been the most effete fight since Colin Firth and Hugh Grant hissy-fitted in Bridget Jones's Diary. To its credit, however, the contretemps between Matthew Freud and his former client Mr Grant did inject the phrase "media circus" with a little winsome literality.

Why they forewent the outsize shoes remains one of several mysteries about the Quake over the Cake, a mash-up better suited to the Chipperfield big tent than the dance floor at Annabel's, but it's still a delight to find Matthew forging himself a public profile at last.

For far too long has my old prep school classmate contented himself with a background role, facilitating dodgy friendships on yachts off Corfu, hosting understated soirees for political leaders, and generally exerting the unseen but thoroughly benign influence on British life expected of a Rupert Murdoch son-in-law. In smearing the chocolate over Mr Grant's shirt (and nothing so dark and enticing has hovered above that navel since Divine Brown's head), Matthew took a giant stride out of the shadows towards the sunlit uplands of stardom.

The results are already apparent. Impeccable imaginary sources lead me to believe that Shine, the TV production company owned by his wife Elisabeth, is on the verge of commissioning Gateaux Wars With Matthew Freud, a 12-part series of what the proposal calls "patisserie pugilism" for Sky 1.

TV's hardest man Ross Kemp, Matthew's one-time neighbour on the Blenheim estate, has already been lined up for the first episode, subtitled Battenburg Brawl. Other rumoured participants include Hugh's namesake Richard E (sherry trifle), Jeremy Irons (coffee eclair) and Life Is Beautiful Oscar-winner Roberto Benigni (tiramisu). Most ambitiously, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California has been approached for the show featuring Viennese Whirls.

Mention of which brings us, perhaps inevitably, to Matthew's great grandfather, by prompting yet another appeal to Steve Jones, Richard Dawkins or any other top-ranked geneticist to find an explanation (and I'm aware this is no piece of cake) as to how in the name of sanity we went from Sigmund to Matthew in three generations?

Column of power

The best of luck to The Sun's Kelvin MacKenzie tomorrow night when he's up for best columnist at the British Press Awards (the Oscars of our industry). It probably came too late to influence the judges, but last week's snippet dismissing the Children's Commissioner Maggie Atkinson's opinion about the age of criminal responsibility on the grounds that she is not a mother herself was particularly acute. Later this week, please God with "columnist of the year" adorning his byline, Kelvin is scheduled to attack the GMC for continuing to sanction male gynaecologists.

Driven to distraction

The start of the Formula 1 season saw David Coulthard on splendid form as he ambled through the paddock for the BBC. Michael Schumacher's return to the sport at 41 was, he wisely observed, "a real human experiment". Now there's a phrase you don't hear every day in a Germanic context.

Work for your public money

The police know no truer friend than The Sun, of course, and on Friday it splashed with a report showing officers in a suitably heroic light. "Armed cops grab Bulger killer" was the headline above a piece that wasn't so much breathless as urgently needing an oxygen mask clamped over its face. Tom Wells reported how Jon Venables, preparatory to being interviewed about child pornography, was "grabbed from his prison bed" by officers who "swooped at dawn" and gave him "just five minutes to pack" before "hauling him away" in a "dawn swoop" (just in case you forgot) involving "nine officers, some with handguns."

Leaving such a dangerous operation to so few men seemed reckless to me. "Venables was said to have looked dazed", Tom continued, and so perhaps were some readers. Nowhere does Mr Wells try to explain why it took so many people to escort one unarmed man. But it's a relief to note that the financial restraint The Sun demands of BBC executives isn't extended to other recipients of public funding so long as they're wasting taxpayers' money in a just and noble cause.

Wealth of modesty

Others are less profligate, thankfully, which leads the Mirror’s Paul Routledge to ride to the defence of Charlie Whelan. "When he resigned as Gordon Brown’s spin doctor in 1999, amid the furore over Peter Mandelson’s secret £375,000 home loan from Geoffrey Robinson," he writes, “he didn’t take a penny of taxpayers’ money.” Nor, he adds, did Charlie take the £100,000 offered for a book about his time in the Treasury.

What Routers would have added had space permitted is that Charlie was fired for leaking the details of that loan; and that Paul himself did accept a chunky advance to write the book in which those details appeared. His refusal to flaunt his wealth pays rich credit to his sensitivity in these difficult economic days.

Mirror goes posh

A colleague of Paul's stakes an early claim, finally, for Incongruous Byline of the Year. Whatever her future on the Daily Mirror holds for Boudicca Fox-Leonard, it probably won't involve following David Cameron during the campaign taunting him for being posh.