Diary: Groupies scent their man as Assange sweats it out

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The Independent Online

According to former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, Julian Assange always used to smell like "he hadn't bathed for days". But even the ripe scent of week-old sweat won't deter the ladies. Assange has been living under "mansion arrest" at Ellingham Hall in Norfolk for some eight months now, and the enigmatic Australian has attracted not only journalists, says his host, Vaughan Smith, but groupies, too. "We definitely had a problem with groupies," Smith tells The Times. "They rented a house in the village, a groupie commune, mostly Germans or Austrians, who just felt they could turn up at this house and Julian would take them in. Julian is hunted by a certain type of woman... who can be quite pushy. They are mainly from Eastern Europe. It's extraordinary." That it is.

* When Piers Morgan departed these shores for the USA, who could have guessed Britain would so soon be clamouring for his return? Nope, me neither. And yet it has come to pass. Among those calling on the CNN host to repack his bags and jump on the first flight home is Harriet Harman, who told Sky News yesterday that Morgan has "got to answer" questions regarding alleged phone hacking at the Mirror under his editorship.

That put me in mind of a diary column that Piers himself penned back in 2007, just after Ms Harman was installed as Labour's Deputy Leader: "I spent the morning perusing the day's newspapers, and laughed out loud at the thought of what Lady Thatcher would make of Harriet Harman now being the country's most powerful woman..." Who's laughing now?

* Latif Yahia, subject of the new film The Devil's Double, has encountered a touch of scepticism regarding the veracity of the claims on which said film rests: that he was once employed as Uday Hussein's body double. (Those who knew Uday say he only ever met Yahia when he was arrested for impersonating the dictator's son to impress women.) Still, even if Yahia's extraordinary tales from Iraq did turn out to be fantasy, he still has plenty to tell from the years after his escape from the country in 1992.

Yahia has bragged of further exploits sufficient to fill at least one sequel. According to a Sunday Times report from January, he claims to have made and lost $25m as a diamond smuggler; been tortured by the CIA; been offered a role in the post-Saddam Iraqi government; and been "chased down Edgware Road by Iraqi secret agents". Sound plausible? Yahia told the Daily Mirror, "the movie is only 20 per cent of the truth". Some might say that was a generous estimate.

* He may be perfectly happy to advertise butter, but John Lydon (formerly Rotten) isn't so pleased if said butter is being consumed on, say, a cream tea at a stately home, in a café where the stereo is playing a selection from Never Mind The Dovecotes, a collection of punk classics (including one by the Sex Pistols) produced by the National Trust.

"I would like to be able to trust the National Trust," said Lydon in statement yesterday, "but from this point forward I can't. I was very proud to collaborate with The National Trust back in 2003 and voice a radio advert for them. No one, however, has even spoke to myself or my management or had a conversation with myself or my management about this album. I love my England, my honest England. My heart is true but this particular situation seems deeply sneaky and we are waiting to be supplied with information on this chain of events and the answer better be good." Anarchy in the gift shop!

* John Julius Norwich has eaten plenty of literary lunches as he promotes The Popes, his new history of the papacy. One of his favourite tales for fellow diners is that of the late Francis Joseph, Cardinal Spellman, a (shall we say) "flamboyant" fellow, who returned home to New York after visiting American troops in Vietnam in 1965 and ordered his bishops and monsignors to dress only in sombre black and white for the normally lavish St Patrick's Day mass at the city's cathedral. They all followed the Cardinal's instructions obediently, eschewing any hint of Romanesque ostentation. "Imagine their fury," says Norwich, "as they gazed at Spellman as he proceeded from the sacristy in magnificent satin and purple. One bishop couldn't contain himself mouthing: 'Francis... you bitch'."

highstreetken@independent.co.uk

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