The Feral Beast: Alastair Campbell back-pedals on Lance Armstrong

Stealthy as a snow leopard

Alastair Campbell has admitted he was wrong all along – about Lance Armstrong, at least. The former spin-doctor was one of the cyclist's staunchest defenders, but now says he was duped.

"I don't feel angry so much as sad," he tells me. "I fell for him. I joined the very long list of people who were persuaded that his talent was exceptional, which it was. Above all, I think I wanted to believe that he did it clean."

Campbell was persuaded of Armstrong's innocence during an interview with him for The Times in 2004, when Armstrong said "losing and dying are the same thing". "I completely relate to that in politics," Campbell explains. "If you are fighting a campaign, you have got to feel as though your life depends on it, otherwise you don't get the best out of yourself. With him, that meant he would do anything to win, including cheating, and lying about it when he was challenged."

Campbell now believes Armstrong should apologise to David Walsh, the Sunday Times journalist who maintained Armstrong had cheated, but was successfully sued by Armstrong, in a case that cost them over £1m. A spokesman for the paper now says it will be "vigorously" pursuing a campaign to get the money back.

Double trouble

The Scottish castle used as a double for Balmoral in The Queen has been sold to a Chinese mineral water company.

Blairquhan Castle in Ayrshire had been in the Hunter Blair family for 200 years; its similarity to the Queen's Scottish home made it ideal for the 2006 film starring Helen Mirren. But after the death of colourful bachelor Sir James Hunter Blair, it passed to a cousin, Sir Patrick, who put it on the market two years ago, with an asking price of £4.85m. Now, he has found an unlikely buyer in Ganten Mineral Water, a company from Guangdong Province, which calls itself "a part of the global energy network surrounding our planet". It's unclear what they plan to do with the house, which is currently hired out for weddings, and boasts 16 bedrooms, an art gallery and snooker room. Sir Patrick is keeping his chin up – he says the sale was "a change in strategic policy for the family". But when I ask if it's a shame to lose the house after so many generations, he says, "Of course it is."

Alan's scherzo

Hurry, hurry! Applications for the post of chief executive of the Royal Opera House – salary £400,000 – must be in by noon on Thursday. One CV yet to land on the Covent Garden doormat is that of Alan Rusbridger, ivories-tinkling editor of The Guardian.

Though rumours have been swirling that he would like the job, he tells me he has not submitted an application. However, when I ask if he plans to ping one off before the deadline, communication suddenly dries up. No doubt Alan would be perfect for the job; the question is, how ever would The Guardian survive without him?

Early-day potion

A homeopathic chemist endorsed by Prince Charles and the Queen has got into trouble for promoting quack pills as "vaccines" for rubella and meningitis.

Ainsworths, in the up-market London district of Marylebone, has been censured by government medicine regulators after an investigation by a regional news programme. An undercover reporter also found the shop's proprietor, Anthony Pinkus, was recommending homeopathic pills as an alternative to the whooping cough vaccination. Mr Pinkus did not return my calls, but somehow, one suspects his business won't be too bothered by the authorities.

In 2007, Jeremy Hunt, now the Health Secretary, signed a parliamentary early-day motion praising the "positive contribution" of homeopathic hospitals in the NHS.

Dave's dosey doe

One unforeseen consequence of David Cameron cancelling his speech to deal with the hostage crisis was that it left the press corps stranded in Amsterdam. Political correspondents of several newspapers had shuttled off to Holland ahead of the PM's big speech on Europe. But Dave suddenly cancelled, and then it began to snow.

Hacks feared they might not get back when they all missed the 4 o'clock train to London, and all other trains were booked. Tom Newton Dunn of The Sun was about to hire a car when Eurostar announced it would add a second carriage to the 5 o'clock train. A genius bit of PR by Eurostar. But do the journalists now have to turn tail and return? Rumour has it Dave could be heading back out to give the speech as soon as Monday.

A plot for Pippa

The Middletons have asked for details of their new multimillion-pound home to be kept secret, for obvious reasons. But while newspapers may be happy to oblige, the agent who sold the house, Savills, can't resist boasting about the sale.

It has placed a large picture of the Georgian mansion in the new issue of Country Life, as "an example of property recently sold by the Savills Newbury office".

Advertising houses you've already sold seems a bit daft, but there is a point to it: staff are being recruited to the Newbury office. Savills wants a "dynamic and capable individual", with "the ability to network and build on existing contacts". Wouldn't Pippa make the most brilliant estate agent?

Grub up

One burger news story that slipped under the radar is Jeremy Corbyn's insistence he never goes to McDonald's. The MP for the fiercely organic Islington North was keen to set the record straight during a recent debate.

It all started when Keith Vaz recalled an incident when Corbyn was "off to have dinner with his sons and was taking them to McDonald's". Corbyn leaped up and declaimed: "No, that is not true. I wish to place on the record that my Right Honourable Friend has been misled on this matter. I have not taken my sons to McDonald's, I have no intention of taking them to McDonald's, and I have no intention of visiting McDonald's myself. Is that clear?". All-righty! Still, a free Happy Meal to anyone who can prove otherwise.

Take Everything

A bad week for HMV, which folded, but it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good. The Mercury-Prize nominated band Everything Everything released their second album, Arc, on Monday, and accidentally became the last band to play an in-store gig at the Manchester store.

It's traditional for staff to give visiting bands a small gift after such an appearance, but the boys couldn't decide between options including Curb Your Enthusiasm and the new Alan Partridge. "They just said, 'Take the lot'," says bassist Jeremy Pritchard. "About two hundred quid's worth. We didn't know they were at death's door at that point. But, presumably, they did."

Look who adores our chef Bill!

Anna Kendrick says she – ahem – pleasures herself watching Ryan Gosling at the cinema. But how does the heart-throb actor unwind? Reading The Independent on Sunday, of course!

Gosling admits to having a man-crush on our food writer, Bill Granger. "I got a little star-struck when I met him," Gosling tells GQ Australia. "I've got all his cookbooks."

Naturally, Bill is thrilled. "As if Ryan weren't appealing enough, the fact that he can cook should seal the deal," he says. "I'm flattered I've helped in my way." All part of the service.

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