Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary (18/03/12)

Safe in our hands

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The Independent Online

Remember Andrew Neil's election night boat party? Brace yourself for a similar spectacle for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee river pageant, but this time with David Mellor. I understand the BBC has come to an arrangement with the Tories' onetime "Minister of Fun", to allow it to film the regal regatta from his home. Mellor lives in a 19th-century former dockmaster's house on the Thames at St Katharine Docks, east London, which commands views of Tower Bridge. The grand finale of the day's celebrations, when the Queen will be borne downstream on a gilded barge from Putney, will be her emergence through Tower Bridge. "The BBC want to park their cameras on his poop deck," says my lad up the crow's nest. "Lots of people in the dock are planning parties that day, and the Mellors are sure to be among them." Mr Mellor didn't return calls asking about his plans, though he and his wife, Viscountess Cobham, are among the dock's more sociable residents. Restaurants along the river are cashing in on the pageant, offering lunch and fizz at £200 per head. The BBC declined to comment on its plans, or say if it would be paying Mr Mellor for use of his home. Could be a nice littler earner.

Tuesday's police swoop on the Oxfordshire home of Rebekah and Charlie Brooks led newspapers to publish a picture of their house. It was a long-lens shots showing a row of grand Cotswold stone gables. But whoever took the snap got the wrong house. The Brooks home is a more rustic converted barn next door. The house pictured is Sarsden Manor, a tarted-up farmhouse let out for luxury holidays by Unique Home Stays, for up to £10,000 a week. One can't help wondering who provided the decoy picture. At least the cops got the right address: there was a house party at Sarsden Manor all week, who might not have welcomed a dawn raid.

Tony Blair is to give evidence to the Leveson inquiry, I can reveal. The former prime minister will appear in Module 3, which begins after Easter, though official details have not been released. This is the bit focusing on relations between government and the media. I'm told he plans to relaunch his 2007 attack on "the feral beasts of the media", when he said press/government relations were "damaged" and in need of repair (code for "editors won't do what I say any more"). My mole in Connaught Square says the former PM has been lunching with hacks from simpatico newspapers, including The Guardian and FT, in an effort to "re-enter the atmosphere of the press". He will also talk about Cherie's phone being hacked, as first revealed in The IoS. This always seemed rather needless, since she blabs most of her indiscretions in public anyway.

Television executives have asked MPs to be allowed to film the VIP galleries at the House of Commons. At the moment, they are banned from showing who's up there during debates. Previous visitors have included Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant and various heads of state, who are sometimes referred to during debates. TV execs say it's perverse not to let the public see them. But the Commons Administration select committee, which is mulling it over, is struggling to decide. Could this be because one of the most regular visitors is the Speaker's wife, Sally Bercow? An expert in drawing attention to herself, she shakes her head whenever Cameron speaks and nods vigorously at anything Ed Miliband says. If the rules change, Sally could get a lot of free airtime. No wonder MPs are reluctant.

When Dawn French took to the stage at the Royal Opera two years ago, audiences were delighted. But now that Ann Widdecombe has replaced her as the Duchess of Krakentorp – a speaking role in Donizetti's La Fille du Régiment – appetite for tickets appears to have cooled. Covent Garden is offering half-price tickets to its Friends, and throwing in a free glass of champagne to get bums on seats. Tickets normally available for £179 are being flogged off for just £89.50. The first performance is not till 19 April, so no one knows how Widdy will fare. Her performance on Strictly Come Dancing was a triumph, but then we didn't have to pay £179 to see it.

Loath as we are to pay them any attention, Piers Morgan has challenged Jeremy Clarkson to a boxing match. He was responding to Jezza's column in yesterday's Sun, in which he called on Arsenal fans to punch Morgan in the face. Now Morgan has thrown down his gauntlet on Twitter, saying they should "settle this once and for all". The loser, he says, should pay £100,000 to Comic Relief. They'd raise 10 times that amount through ticket sales.

m.bell@independent.co.uk

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