Diary: I always thought he wanted to take over the world...

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The Independent Online

While Sir Richard Branson has denied a report leaked in a US embassy cable claiming he was ready to bankroll a plot to give Robert Mugabe the boot, I for one never tire in my admiration for this man of many talents.

Let's face it, had Sir Richard actually led a successful mission to overthrow Zimbabwe's resident tyrant, it would surely have been right up there with many of the more popular services offered by his vast business empire. Forget Virgin Cola (oh, you had already), if Virgin Despot Removals had taken off it could have been big. Very big. Ignore those who moan about the "crap" buffet service on Virgin Rail, not to mention the electric toilet doors that have been known to open involuntarily. This man has long proved ready to rise to the challenge when his country has needed him.

Being the patriotic type, I would have come over all misty-eyed witnessing the moving spectacle of Virgin planes flying towards Harare, as Sir Richard's famously glamorous legion of air hostesses prepared to be parachuted into the capital, before disarming Mugabe's burly bodyguards with their painted-on smiles.

Judging by most of Branson's business enterprises, once he'd got his foot in the door, it's unlikely the great man would have stopped there. Kim Jong-il would have been bricking it.

Lord Sugar's far from sweet on that 'diva' Stephen Fry

After leafing through Alan Partridge's celebrated memoirs, the only way was down when it came to my next biographical subject of choice. Suffice it to say, the new literary effort by the increasingly infirm Lord Sugar proves just the ticket. Pet hates include rival national treasure Stephen Fry, who, we're told, needs taking down a bloody peg or two! "It may be because he's had a couple of pokes at my television programme, which he has no right to do," explains Milord Alan. "But, more to the point, it's because he's the biggest diva going." So put that in your posh man's pipe and smoke it, Mr Fancy Pants Fry! This Lord won't rest until he can say, with trademark showbiz panache, "You're fired!"

* Following on from my report yesterday regarding the Boris Johnson versus Ken Livingstone pizza battle, it seems the latter is going to some lengths to ensure he doesn't endure an early setback in the London mayoral race. With diners at Pizza Express being invited to vote for their favourite of the two (I really don't need to tell you how significant this could prove to the future political balance in the English capital), news that the Boris pizza currently enjoys a commanding 14 per cent lead has stung Team Ken into action. Last night Livingstone was due to turn up mob-handed with up to 50 lackeys at the chain's Victoria Street branch in Westminster, in a blatant bid to boost his poll rating. The final, all-important result is due to be announced at the London Restaurant Festival next week.Meanwhile, one can understand the levels of anger emanating from the campaign HQ of the Liberal Democrat mayoral hopeful Brian Paddick, who suffered the indignity of being omitted from the contest altogether. Supporters of Paddick's vanquished party challenger Lembit Opik have been quick to point out that their man would "almost certainly have been a pizza" had he got the nod instead from unforgiving party members. Ironically, there are unconfirmed reports that poor Lembit's latest job involves delivering a rival pizza range on a moped across south London.

* Among the many unwitting victims of the technical crisis affecting BlackBerry phones this week was a large section of the Conservative parliamentary party. MPs were less than happy to receive an apparently urgent message from party whips at around 4am yesterday, ordering them to return immediately for a vote in the Commons.

* In times of crisis it's always reassuring to be able to rely on your friends back home. Putting that to one side, certain Tory members in Liam Fox's North Somerset consituency are whispering – rather loudly – that they'd warned the good Doctor about his "complicated antics" for some time.

highstreetken@independent.co.uk

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