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The Feral Beast: A high-class marriage, cooking the books, literary sport and tattoo talk


As David Cameron's sister-in-law, and former correspondence secretary, Alice Sheffield knows how hectic his schedule can be. So it's considerate of her to be getting married in a window when the Camerons can make it – Saturday 7 September – after recess but just before conference. Sam Cam's 32-year-old half-sister was last in the news five years ago, when the PM was found to be employing her three days a week. Now she is to marry her French estate agent fiancé, Etienne Cadestin, at the Sheffields' family home in North Yorkshire. The gardens of Sutton Park, normally open to the public, will be shut that weekend. Sir Reginald Sheffield, Sam Cam's dad, bought it in 1963, after downsizing from nearby Normanby Hall. My man in the potting shed says the place is a flurry of activity. "They're currently building a pergola to prettify the loo block," he whispers. "Though the kitchen garden is still a little on the wild side."

Number crunching

Economist Anatole Kaletsky may have dropped off some radars since he stopped writing for The Times last year. Private Eye used to delight in pointing out all the predictions he got wrong. So how cheering to find he is still blundering on, in his latest incarnation as a writer for the world edition of The New York Times. In his latest column, he says: "Since 2009, economic conditions in most of the world have been steadily improving; employment has rebounded in Asia, Britain and the United States, and recently even in parts of Continental Europe." In fact, unemployment has twice peaked in the UK since 2009, and is nowhere near its 5 per cent pre-2008 levels. But he doesn't need us to point this out: next to his column, a report states: "There is little sign that the tepid recovery will be enough to address the main problems weighing on the eurozone: an unemployment rate at record levels and a crisis of confidence in public-sector finances." Not on planet Anate!

Return of the Mitford girls

Fans of the novels of Nancy Mitford about her eccentric upper-class family are being given the opportunity to relive them in real life. Rosie Pearson, the present owner of Asthall Manor in the Cotswolds, where the Mitfords once lived, is throwing open its doors to the public, and will post actors playing each of the six Mitford sisters in some rooms. For one weekend only in October, the Scary Little Girls theatre, using correspondence between the sisters, will portray their famously differing political positions. Unity fell in love with Hitler and Jessica joined the Communist Party. No word on any male roles. Since their father, immortalised as the tyrant Uncle Matthew in Love in a Cold Climate, chased his children with hounds, and revered his entrenching tool, it's probably just as well.

Books brûlés

Hot flushes at Notting Hill bookshop Books for Cooks, after the books were nearly cooked in a fire. The shop, which sells 8,000 foodie titles, had a near-miss when the adjoining tattoo parlour went up in flames. Happily, the fire service averted disaster. Only last summer, the nearby Electric Cinema and members' club, owned by Nick Jones, suffered a kitchen fire which forced it to close for six months. Books for Cooks is the Portobello Road's second-most celebrated bookshop, after the Travel Bookshop, which became famous when Hugh Grant had a bumbling moment with Andie MacDowell there in Richard Curtis's film, Notting Hill. Books for Cooks's biggest claim to fame was that Clarissa Dickson Wright once offered to man the shop for an afternoon, and stayed four years. Now they offer cookery classes as well. "We are resuming the classes very soon, in a couple of weeks," says a kippered shop assistant. "The smoke is still lingering in the air."

Virgin queen

Richard Branson isn't in any hurry to put his feet up, but his daughter Holly is beginning to eye up the family business. In the first indication of a dynastic succession, the 31-year-old says she is preparing to take over Virgin. "It's logical for me to think of running the company one day," she tells The Wall Street Journal. "But not for many years. My dad isn't slowing down. If anything, he's speeding up." It's an intriguing turn of events within the Virgin empire, which was created more or less single-handedly by the balloon-flying buccaneer. Holly had hitherto been determined to follow her own path, training for six years to become a doctor. But after a year as a junior house doctor in the neurology department of the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, the glamour of medicine soon wore off, and she was lured into the business. Her younger brother Sam, meanwhile, is happy making documentaries, but may join her too. "Sam's more emotional. I'm more analytical," she says. "I think if we ever run Virgin, we'd make a pretty good team."

Chaucer in the slips

The single-issue festival is over – now it's all about diversity. The latest addition to the calendar is Words and Wickets, a weekend of cricket and literature to be held at Wormsley, John Paul Getty's splendid cricket pitch high in the Chilterns. Scheduled for the first weekend of September, it will centre on a match between the Authors XI, featuring Sebastian Faulks and William Fiennes, and the Actors XI, captained by Homeland star Damian Lewis and including Sam Mendes and Tom Ward.

Meanwhile, in the pitchside marquees, cricket fans Mark Steel and Andy Zaltzman will provide comedy, while elsewhere there will be recitals of cricketing literature and panel discussions on cricket writing. If it all sounds a bit heavy on the cricket, the Gettys are opening their library to visitors. Volumes include a Shakespeare first folio and Caxton's first edition of The Canterbury Tales. That should knock them for six.

The age of elegance

Here's a report of a charming conversation between the actress Amanda Seyfried, who plays Linda Lovelace in the new film about the porn star, and her fellow film star, Sharon Stone, discussing Seyfried's tattoo. "Sharon Stone was like, 'What's that on your foot? What does it say?' I was like, 'Minge.' She was like, 'What does that mean?' I was like, 'It's not what it means literally, but what it means to me.'" Who says the golden age of Hollywood is over?