Diary: Napoleon's remote island prison has new air of closeness

  • @andymcsmith

It is a big day today for Lord Ashcroft, the former bankroller of the Conservative Party, and others who have campaigned to have a £300m airport built on a remote Atlantic island, paid for by the British taxpayer.

A seven-strong team is to disembark on St Helena, inset, this afternoon, to begin interviewing for jobs on the biggest infrastructure project the island has ever seen.

The International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, announced in parliament that the contract has now been awarded to bring the island's 4,200 inhabitants in closer touch with the rest of the world.

It is to be opened in 2015, the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, after which Napoleon Bonaparte was dispatched to spend his dying days on St Helena. A South African firm will carry out most of the work, but Robson & Co (Conveyors) of Sheffield will supply the luggage carousel, which will be small enough to fit in the average sitting-room. We are not talking Heathrow here.

Lord Ashcroft has a soft spot for remote parts of the old British Empire, having made his vast fortune in some of them. He has not been to St Helena, which at present involves a 1,700-mile boat ride from Cape Town, but as he flew from Namibia to Brazil in his private jet in January 2010, he buzzed the island to publicise the campaign for an airport. Giving Lord Ashcroft and the islanders what they wanted was one of the first decisions reached by the incoming government.

How Osborne made little girls cry

A rumour that Harry Styles, the handsome 17-year-old star of One Direction was going to Knutsford, in Cheshire, to turn on the Christmas lights ended in crashing disappointment, The Sun reports. Girls booed, others were in tears, and who can blame them? Instead of Harry, they were faced with the local MP, George Osborne.

Billabong days at the Cathedral

Demonstrators camped out by St Paul's Cathedral will be visited today by an aboriginal from the Australian outback. When dealing with white people, he calls himself Michael Anderson, though his tribal name is Ghillar, after the bird accredited in aboriginal myth with inventing the boomerang.

He is leader of the 4,500-strong Euahlayi tribe, and elected representative of the larger, neighbouring Gumilaroi tribe. There is archaeological evidence that his people have lived in the same area, sliced in two by the Queensland-New South Wales border, for more than 40,000 years.

It is rich in coal, gas, gold and diamonds but its aboriginal inhabitants live in homes owned by the state and depend on welfare. Ghillar has been rooting around in the record of the British parliament to see if an Order in Council passed in 1875 granting the aboriginals sovereignty, was ever repealed.

He believes it was not, and if he can prove it, he intends to go an international court to argue that the Australian government stole his people's land. "The laws in Australia are very restrictive and very oppressive," he said. "Australia decides what the aboriginal can or cannot get. Our argument is that, as a sovereign people, we have a right to negotiate."

Burley indebted to ex for bonkbuster inspiration

The satirist Craig Brown has been immensely rude about the writing talents of Sky News presenter, Kay Burley. Interviewed in the January edition of The Word magazine, he remarked: "Kay Burley wrote an incredibly bad novel. I've read some bad novels, but her bonkbuster was grotesquely badly written. And very, very unsexy. She obviously hated writing about sex, and you can see her putting it off. It was almost as if she'd never had sex herself."

The novel in question is First Ladies published this year. This extract gives a flavour of how she structured the sex scenes: "Lithe and muscular, he effortlessly lifted her from the bed and onto his broad shoulders. Sally felt all the excitement and exhilaration of a fairground ride as he continued to offer intense pleasure before she was finally sated and he lowered her gently back onto the round bed."

Burley says in the acknowledgements that one of the people without whose assistance the book could not have been written is her ex-partner, George Pascoe-Watson, former Political Editor of The Sun.