Diary: Gaddafi daffy for Cartland
Wednesday 24 August 2011
At time of writing, Colonel Gaddafi's fate and whereabouts remain unknown. During the final, frantic hours in his compound, however, it seems not unlikely that he might have turned for solace to the pages of a good book. And where better to escape than into one of the 723 tomes by Dame Barbara Cartland, reputedly the Libyan dictator's favourite writer? In 1990, Gaddafi placed an order with Foyles bookshop in London for a large consignment of the late Dame Barbara's cloying romances, as well as a selection of Sherlock Holmes and John le Carré titles. "I am the Colonel's favourite author," Dame Barbara claimed before her death in 2000, "He's read all my books and I think that's helping him become a more peaceful man." She also boasted a large Iraqi fanbase in her lifetime. Sadly, the admiration was not entirely mutual: Dame Barbara tended to refer erroneously to her biggest fan as "Colonel Godolphin".
* As yet more damaging revelations surface about the early days of Andy Coulson's employment by the Conservative Party, a new round of the blame game will surely be played at Millbank (and/or in the Newsnight studio). After Dave shrugged it off, the shroud of culpability settled around the shoulders of his Chancellor, George (né Gideon) Osborne, on whose advice the then-Opposition leader reportedly agreed to hire his former press chief. Yet now, this column has been semi-reliably informed, the miffed Osborne camp is keen to let it be known that Gideon was not the first to be taken in by the News International man. It was, in fact, Foreign Secretary William Hague, the Chancellor's one-time mentor, who introduced Gideon to Coulson after being hired to write a News of the World column (which appeared in the tabloid weekly from 2003-05). There are grumbles from the Osborne camp, I hear, that Hague has allowed his protégé to "take the flak", despite being "ultimately responsible" for allowing Coulson to "come into their lives". Or words to that effect.
* Meanwhile, the phoney war for the London mayoralty continues online, where (reports Political Scrapbook) alleged babydaddy Boris Johnson's attempts to attract support via social media have so far faltered. Boris's digital campaign guru boasted in March of a "hugely interactive website", but since the "Activist Forum" went live on the Mayor's "Back Boris" site five months ago, it has yielded a mere four comments: two from the campaign team, one from a Tory London Assembly candidate, and one from a baffled user asking whether it's "possible to see when one of your friends signs up (or a tally of how many of your friends have signed up)?" Here's a clue, chum: they haven't. Meanwhile, Club 305, the Mayor's new "private members' club" for elite backers (membership costs £2,012 – geddit?), has had a take-up of "less than 50 per cent" of what was hoped for, according to my (probably) impeccable sources. I guess that's what's known in the trade as a "soft launch".
* Still, all's not well in the Ken camp, either, with ex-Mayor Livingstone's web team being forced to remove an image from the new "Your Ken" site for Labour volunteers yesterday. Blogger(s) Guido Fawkes pointed out that a team photo of nerdy young Labour volunteers in Islington, where the party just won a council by-election, was snapped outside Johnson's house, thus identifying his family home. A sophisticated in-joke, no doubt, but a short-lived one. Following Guido's complaint, it was taken down. (Just days after that "Hitler" furore, too. Is this to be the pattern of the campaign? Team Ken makes a joke, everyone else takes offence?) Given that one is asked to present one's personal details to the Labour Party before being allowed access to the site, I wonder how many people would actually have seen said picture anyway.
* And finally, some news to comfort weak-bladdered French film legend Gérard Depardieu as he recovers from that unfortunate incident with an empty bottle on board a CityJet flight to Dublin last week. This column's Scotland correspondent recalls an interview with the late Norman Mailer at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2007, during which Mailer said he shared the same affliction with another ageing literary great, Philip Roth. "Phil, sometimes I have to go into a telephone box to pee," Mailer claimed to have confessed to Roth. "You just can't wait at my age." "I know, it's the same with me," Roth replied. Mailer reflected: "Well, you always were precocious." Mailer was 84 at the time. Roth was 74. (Depardieu is, er, 62.)
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