The Feral Beast: Barbican brouhaha, lordly loves, artistic licence and Alan Bennett's secret skills

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The Independent Online

Awkward scenes at the Barbican on Thursday, when Peter Tatchell got on stage to denounce Valery Gergiev as a friend of Vladimir Putin. Moments before the start of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, the gay rights activist gave a speech condemning the Russian conductor, who had yet to appear, for siding with Putin against Pussy Riot, and for "defending the new homophobic law that persecutes gay Russians". The imperious 60-year-old conductor is finding it increasingly difficult to perform without being ambushed. Only last month, activists surprised him at the Carnegie Hall in New York, and again at the opening of Eugene Onegin at the Met. There's even an article in this week's New Yorker titled "The problem with Valery Gergiev". Gergiev has been a fan of Putin since he was the deputy mayor of St Petersburg, where Gergiev presides over the Mariinsky Theatre. Tatchell's protest was particularly ingenious: as he was wearing a tuxedo; the audience assumed he was a Barbican official, and it was some time before anyone bundled him off stage. I'm told two gentlemen from the percussion and brass sections eventually took it upon themselves to move him on. Gergiev conducted as if nothing had happened, and security swarmed during the interval, somewhat after the event.

Secret life of Roy

Toppers off to Roy Hattersley, who has married for the second time, aged 81. The Labour peer divorced his first wife, Molly, only this summer, after 57 years together. The second Lady Hattersley is his literary agent, Maggie Pearlstine, with whom he had been living for many years. The secret was well kept, though it would occasionally leak out. One former editor recalls asking a member of staff to commission an article from a writer who shared the same agent. Pearlstine said the writer wasn't available, but Roy Hattersley was and could produce the piece himself. "Oh, we don't want him. He's weird," said the hack, unwittingly. "Well," replied Ms Pearlstine, "I've been living with him for 30 years and I don't think he's weird at all."

Under Emin's spell

More than 100 pictures given by the Royal Academy to the Queen to celebrate last year's Diamond Jubilee have gone on display for the first time. Among the academicians who chipped in are David Hockney and Grayson Perry. But the exhibition, at Buckingham Palace, is a source of embarrassment for Tracey Emin. Her paper and ink portrait is inscribed: "HRH Royal Britania" [sic]. After agonising long and hard, curators have decided to keep the misspelling in the royal catalogue, as that's how the artist has spelt it. At least it wasn't lit up in neon.

Eyebrows raised

Norman Lamont's eyebrows were once the most recognisable feature in Westminster. But the former Chancellor of the Exchequer appears to have melted into anonymity. Well-heeled Conservatives turning up for a Tory fundraising dinner in the City were surprised to find him being blocked at the entrance by security guards because he didn't have any ID. "It was very humiliating," says my source. "They had no idea who he was and they were adamant he couldn't come in." Eventually one guest roared: "For goodness sake, he's the former chancellor of the exchequer," and he was allowed in. Kenneth Clarke was able to barrel in unhampered.


Trinny Woodall will speak at a Spectator debate against the motion "Addiction is not a disease". The TV presenter first revealed in The Independent on Sunday how drink and drugs had taken their toll on her life. No doubt Charles Saatchi, her new dining companion, will be keen to join in. The 70-year-old art dealer is known to take a hard line on drugs. He was once stopped at the airport on suspicion of carrying cocaine, as a trail of white powder snowflaked out of his trousers. The truth was much worse: being obese, he was applying talc to his balls to prevent chafing.

Can't keep up the pace

Arctic Monkeys postponed three gigs over the past three nights. The reason given to fans was that lead singer Alex Turner had "contracted laryngitis". Happily, he was well enough on Wednesday night to attend the Mercury Music Prize and then partying at the Groucho until three in the morning. Did Keith Richards ever "contract laryngitis"?

Nanny's nuggets

Alan Bennett is a whizz for fixing washing machines, according to a new book. During the 1980s, Nina Stibbe worked as a nanny for Mary-Kay Wilmers, the redoubtable editor of The London Review of Books. She wrote dozens of letters to her sister, chronicling life in a literary north London household. Claire Tomalin, Jonathan Miller and Michael Frayn were forever popping in and out. We learn that, at various times, Bennett fixed the fridge, the phone, the car, the bicycle and the washing machine, though Stibbe had no idea who he was, thinking he was an actor in Coronation Street. Now the letters have been published in a nook, Love, Nina. Stibbe admits that Wilmers was against the idea. "Although I've taken out lots of the naughty bits, she still has serious misgivings," she says. A typical entry reads: "PS Who's George Melly? I'm in his room."

Diplomatic immunity

Residents of Kensington are complaining about the Mauritian embassy, which is in a state of advanced decay. Chunks of woodwork are peeling off the handsome 19th-century townhouse on Elvaston Place. But the council is wary of getting involved. "It's difficult dealing with diplomats," sighs a preservation officer. "They are a law unto themselves. We are keeping an eye on it, but technically embassies are mini countries. Our powers are limited. It doesn't mean we can't embarrass them."

No more McHampstead

For 11 years, McDonald's battled to open a branch in Hampstead, the bohemian village in north London. High-minded local residents rallied to oppose it, with one local quoted saying: "It would bring a lot of undesirable people who would just come and buy things and litter the streets." But after a High Court action, McDonald's won, and opened a branch in 1992. Now, it has performed a reverse ferret, announcing it will close. It insists trade was good, and that it was made too good an offer on its lease to refuse. "This was not an easy decision," says a spokesman, "We are sad to leave Hampstead." Locals can order their farewell McNuggets on 17 November.