The Feral Beast: Armani? Suits you, Lord Hall
A model of self-regulation
Sunday 25 November 2012
John Birt was nearly undone as director general of the BBC, when this paper revealed he bought Armani suits on expenses. Now, I can disclose that Tony Hall, appointed DG on Thursday, is also a fan of the chic Italian designer. Currently chief executive of the Royal Opera House, which has enjoyed a prosperous 10 years, Lord Hall has been hailed as the BBC's potential saviour. But his fondness for expensive Armani suits will raise the spectre of Birt, who introduced the layers of bureaucracy which arguably got the BBC into the trouble it's in.
Tony's wife, Cynthia, is headmistress of top girls' boarding school Wycombe Abbey. Before that she spent 15 years as head of St Helen and St Katharine in Abingdon, alma mater of Samantha Cameron. One former pupil recalls an unfortunate incident during the school play, Bugsy Malone, involving a flying cream pie which landed on Lord Hall's suit. "Someone threw a custard pie at the headmistress and her husband, who were sitting in the front row," she recalls. "They were furious, as his Armani suit was ruined. As punishment, the cast after-party was cancelled, and the money was spent on dry-cleaning instead."
Lord Hall seems to be suffering from a touch of Amnesia Levesoniana when I call: "He doesn't remember anything about it," says a spokesman, "except it was a really good show." Bravo!
Gangnam goes to Ai's head
Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei is a hero of free speech, having criticised China's human rights record and gone to prison for it. But is he in danger of undermining his credibility through an embarrassment of self-promotion?
He recently made a parody of the hit song "Gangnam Style", which the Chinese government duly blocked. Now, he has done a "me and my spoon" interview for a national newspaper, in which he comes across as just the faintest bit conceited. Asked "which living person do you most admire, and why?", he says: "Myself, because I'm still alive." Is even China big enough for his ego?
Canterbury tells tales
Justin Welby, the Old Etonian new Archbishop of Canterbury, said at a well-refreshed lunch at The Savoy on Thursday that he "hated bankers". But what does he make of journalists?
He was seated next to Guy Zitter, the convivial managing director of the Daily Mail. By all accounts, the two hit it off, though Welby's remarks about bankers, which caused much flapping at Lambeth Palace, duly appeared in the next day's paper.
The event was The Spectator's Parliamentarian of the Year Awards, where Welby was named "Peer of the year" to the sound of Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus". Speccy editor Fraser Nelson caused some confusion by repeatedly referring to "our awards ceremony here this evening". But it wasn't just the wine causing the fuddlement: the event was being filmed for broadcast that evening.
Ken Clarke dries out
Whatever happened to the straight-forward Ken Clarke we thought we all knew? The man regarded by some Tories as so Wet he's nearly a Liberal Democrat, is in full support of the Government's controversial Justice and Security Bill. This is the Bill that will allow some trials to be held in secret, but Ken used to be an advocate of making sure justice was seen to be done. Now, with any luck the Bill is heading for the rocks, having been heavily defeated in the Lords last week. "Ken's not normally a difficult man to read," says one friend, "but his position on this is quite unfathomable."
Raleigh to army – you're hired!
Raleigh Addington's stint on The Apprentice in 2010 was short-lived but memorable: he bawled out his team leader for mishandling a sausage venture with the phrase "it was shameful!", which promptly trended on Twitter. Addington withdrew from the programme after just one episode, when his brother was injured in a bomb blast while serving in Afghanistan.
Now, the 25-year-old Exeter graduate has set up a business of his own, a speakers' agency offering just military figures. "Military Speakers harnesses the battlefield experiences of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan with first-hand accounts of their own operational tours," he tells me. "We have a mixture of high-profile speakers ranging from courageous George Cross winners to inspirational commanding officers." The former head of the army General Sir Mike Jackson and Ben Collins, better known as The Stig from Top Gear, are already on his books. Who needs Alan Sugar?
Electric gets its wires blessed
Six months after a fire ripped through the kitchens of London's historic Electric Cinema, the doors are to open once again. In June, the private members' club and brasserie favoured by BBC and Notting Hill types was forced to close when thick smoke engulfed the site.
Now, Huey Morgan, lead singer of the Fun Lovin' Criminals, and occasional BBC 6Music DJ, has semi-officially declared it open, by switching on the newly wired lights."A lot of my friends from the BBC have missed the Electric being closed these past few months," he sighs.
The Electric is owned by Nick Jones, husband of Desert Island Discs presenter Kirsty Young, and is one of the jewels in the growing Soho House group. It will officially reopen on 3 December.
M Hollande keeps it real
George Osborne and David Cameron were both slow to give up their west London homes for poky Downing Street when they came to power. Now, six months after François Hollande was elected President of France, he has still not moved into the Elysée Palace.
Apparently, he still spends most nights at his apartment in the 15th arrondissement, and even does his own shopping. A piece in the French weekly Le Point claims that, like a cartoon Frenchman, he pops out to buy a crusty baguette every morning.
The magazine also quotes a staff member at his local minimart, who reports: "he often buys ready meals... and he adores his Flanbys; I make sure we always have them in." A Flanby is a cheap, squidgy, mass-market pudding, and was what Nicolas Sarkozy used to call his opponent in the run-up to the election.
Meanwhile, Le Nouvel Observateur reports that the German elite has a rather different nickname for Hollande: Betonkopf, which means "concrete-head". And we think Westminster's full of children!
Austerity antiques for Kate
The Duchess of Cambridge likes shopping as much as the next 30-year-old, but she's no spendthrift. She was recently spotted at an antiques fair on Anglesey, where she and Prince William live, and impressed traders with her bargaining powers. My man at the rummage box says she bought a pair of Imari vases, and haggled the price down from £180 to £160. Kate's mother, Carole, taught her daughters how to drive a hard bargain. It certainly worked for Pippa, who secured a £400,000 advance for her book, which her publishers are unlikely to get back. The Queen would be proud.
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When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools
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