Diary: Tara gives it both barrels

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The Independent Online

To a gala dinner celebrating the 80th anniversary of the famed Foyles literary luncheon, where I learnt a thing or two about the perils of book signing (which, naturally, I'm filing away for future reference). "The worst thing about being an author," a tired and emotional Tara Palmer-Tompkinson assured me as she arrived, "is having such a bloody long name. My book signings take ages!"

Frederick Forsyth, meanwhile, told the assembled revellers, in the ballroom of London's Grosvenor House hotel, of the time he was handed a copy of Jeffrey Archer's Kane and Abel by an American fan – of Jeffrey Archer. "Oh my God, you are my all-time favourite author," the unfortunate woman exclaimed. "Up yours, Jeffrey Archer," Forsyth scribbled on her title page.

Later in the evening, Peter Snow looked a little pained to have to pay £25 for his own book, To War with Wellington, only to sign it and then hand it over to fellow historian Andrew Roberts. What a gent.

* Can you really claim to have converted to Islam when you've read only the first 60 pages of the Koran? What if you don't like the ending? That's the question on the minds of anyone hearing that Tony Blair's sister-in-law Lauren Booth switched religions six weeks ago (10 pages per week; must be gripping stuff) after visiting a shrine in Iran and experiencing "a shot of spiritual morphine".

Lauren and her Catholic half-sister Cherie are not on good terms nowadays, while her father, Tony, isn't even speaking to her. He spoke to me, though – after I'd asked him what he thought of his daughter's conversion, and after he'd finished laughing.

"My initial reaction was complete and stunned disbelief; my understanding was that she was a committed worshipper of mammon," Tony told me from his Todmorden home. "My first thought was that the girl hadn't had a spiritual experience in her life. My second was that her mother, Pamela Cohen, is Jewish, which makes the whole thing even more bizarre. But good luck to her. I suspect she may want to work for a company like al-Jazeera now, and a conversion may make it easier."

* It seems almost shocking to learn that Nick Clegg still enjoys a crafty cigarette every now and then, as he revealed on Desert Island Discs. My exhaustive investigation has unmasked few other 20-a-dayers in the Cabinet. The Prime Minister recently quit the habit, leaving only Justice Secretary Ken Clarke and Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary, puffing behind the bike sheds with the Deputy PM. "I have the very occasional cigar," Mitchell explains. "It's a habit I picked up being a Nottinghamshire MP near Ken." In fact, those in the upper reaches of today's government are more likely to admit to having smoked cannabis than tobacco. Among those senior Conservatives with a confirmed wacky-baccy episode in their pasts are Francis Maude, Oliver Letwin, David Willetts and Lord Strathclyde. Top men Dave and Gideon both famously decline to admit which, if any, drugs they've sampled.

* Fans of the celebrity movie cameo will be disappointed that the disgraced Mel Gibson is to be replaced by the unimpeachable Liam Neeson in The Hangover 2, following protests from the cast and crew, who preferred not to share the screen with the 54-year-old alleged alcoholic, racist domestic abuser. But they should be buoyed by news emerging from New Zealand's "Armageddon" sci-fi convention that Sylvester McCoy, the seventh Doctor Who, has been cast in a cameo (as Wizard Radagast the Brown, no less) in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit. Martin Freeman, set to star as Bilbo Baggins, is not thought to have objected.

* The Guardian and the Daily Mail were in rare agreement yesterday, blaming "middle-class foodies", inspired by the likes of Jamie Oliver, for the rise in wild mushroom picking that's damaging our nation's great forests. Not so the Daily Express, which preferred to lay the principal blame at the door of another demographic. Yes, you've guessed it: "Gangs of East Europeans".