Diary: Natasha won't talk about sexism

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The Independent Online

To Quaglino's, for the Costa Book of the Year awards, where compere and noted feminist Andrew Neil – doubtless mindful of the Sky Sports sexism row – topically declared the 21st Century "The Female Century": prize-winner Jo Shapcott and three of the five authors on the shortlist, as well as a majority of the judges, were women. With this in mind, I quizzed some prominent female attendees on the state of gender relations in the media. Delightful wee Scot Lorraine Kelly assured me she'd never been subject to sexism, but revealed that when she was a rookie reporter, "None of the men took me seriously. They all thought, 'She's just a girl'. So I managed to get some great stories that they didn't catch." Celebrity dancer Natasha Kaplinsky, right, a member of the judging panel, seemed somewhat flustered to be asked about sexism on television, and turned to her chum Andrea Catherwood for assistance. "We work hard so we hope to be judged on our own merits," Catherwood told me touchily. All right, love. Keep your hair on.

* As regular readers of this column will be aware, shadow Chancellor Ed Balls is the subject of my notional joint biopic of himself and Chancellor George (né Gideon) Osborne – provisional title: A Cock and Balls – a dramatisation of their shared battle to overcome speech impediments (Balls a stammer, Osborne a squeak) and rise to the top of their respective parties. Balls was picked for his current post with the promise that he'd be more numerically adept than his predecessor, Alan Johnson. Unfortunately, some of his colleagues are already questioning his maths. As one unsympathetic Labour MP points out, Balls declared upon his appointment that he'd "been involved with the economy for pretty much 25 years now", a troublingly imprecise estimate for an economics expert. Technically speaking, Balls has been "involved with the economy" since 1967, when he was born. But he wasn't an economic adviser to Gordon Brown until 1994. In 1986, otherwise known as 25 years ago, he was still at Oxford. "It could simply be a counting error on his part," says my cowardly anonymous source. "Either that or he's talking out of his arse."

* What would Malcolm Tucker make of the demise of Andy Coulson, his fellow No 10 comms supremo? "I'd like to hack [Coulson's] voicemail and find out what's going on in his life," says Peter Capaldi, aka Tucker, one of the star Scots at CLIC Sargent's Burns Night party at St Martins Lane Hotel. "I can't believe he didn't know what was going on. I'm an actor, what do I know? But I don't like the idea that we're ruled by people who think it's all right to hack into private calls. I'm glad the actors are retaliating." Capaldi told me he'd finally visited the real Downing St press office while filming In The Loop. "They all wanted their photo taken with me," he recalls. "It was like a Star Trek convention, and I was Mr Spock."

* It's to Malcolm Tucker that Sky employees compare Andy Melvin, the producer who presides over the (alleged) culture of (alleged) sexism in Sky Sports' formidable football dept. In an unbylined piece for the New Statesman, an insider writes of Andy Gray and Richard Keys having "upset as many people as they've watched football games." Their boss Melvin, meanwhile, "doesn't care what people think of him. As I once heard him say, 'I'm not here to win a fucking popularity contest'." Tellingly, in 2009, when the job of Sky Sports MD became vacant, the "brilliant" but "abrasive" Melvin was passed over in favour of friendly Barney Francis.

* Might said article's anonymous author have anything to do with the clips of Keys and Gray's lewd antics, first leaked to journalist James MacIntyre (lately of the New Statesman) by a mysterious YouTube user? Said user, "stevesimons409", has since deleted his YouTube account, presumably fearing Sky's ongoing internal investigation.

* Keys finally apologised (profusely, implausibly and at length) for his shabby behaviour on Talksport yesterday. The key fact to emerge from the interview was that Karren Brady – whom Keys insists he tried to call to apologise – has no answerphone. Well, voicemail can be a dangerous thing. She's whip-smart, that Brady – though I'm yet to hear her explain the offside rule to my satisfaction.