The Feral Beast: Flying with Sienna Miller, ding-dongs in the garden, and a bumbling premier


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The Independent Online

As Mohamed al-Fayed's spokesman, Michael Cole is used to smoothing over controversy. But the former PR man has kicked up a hornets' nest of his own by attacking fellow Suffolk resident Benjamin Britten. The bouffant-haired 69-year-old says "too much fuss" is being made over the late composer's centenary, and complains that "there aren't many tunes in Britten. In fact, there aren't any". Pouring kerosene on the fire, he adds that Britten and his partner Peter Pears were cowards for fleeing to America at the start of the war, "because they thought we would lose". The letters desk of the East Anglian Daily Times has never been so busy. While many readers have leaped to Britten's defence, a few agree with Cole. One describes Britten "cowering under his piano on the other side of the Atlantic", and sniffs that his music, "for want of a better word", would not have been appreciated by the troops. One professional musician writes in to say: "Spare a thought for me. I have to play it whether I like it or not."

Sienna takes off

Sienna Miller is technically on a break from work, saying that unless she is offered a "spectacular" part, she would rather be at home with her baby. So it's a hearty endorsement for BMW that the actress abandoned her Italian holiday to come home for a product launch. The 31-year-old was spotted at Perugia airport on Monday morning, catching a plane to London. "The airport staff were clearly starstruck," whispers my spy in Departures. "She got the full VIP treatment, being sneaked out into pole position for the Ryanair tarmac dash." Casually dressed in jeans and T-shirt, she later changed into a floral Dolce & Gabbana number for the launch of the BMW i3 electric car. Her holiday reading was Edward St Aubyn's novel Never Mind, the first of the David Melrose sequence, about a dysfunctional upper-class family. Mother's Milk, the fourth in the series, was adapted into a film. Could Sienna be persuaded to star in Never Mind: The Movie?

Lords and ladies

Much eyebrow-raising over the 30 peers newly elected to the House of Lords, who include JCB tycoon Anthony Bamford and nightclub entrepreneur James Palumbo. But what of their spouses? Jon Mendelsohn, once Gordon Brown's chief fundraiser, is married to the businesswoman Nicola Mendelsohn, who in May was appointed vice-president of Facebook in Europe, Middle East and Africa. A popular and impressive figure, the Manchester-born 41-year-old describes herself as "a proper northern lass", and rewards herself with a pair of Christian Louboutins after every deal. Her husband may have to declare an interest if he participates in debates on online porn and social media, due to go through the Lords. Sir Anthony Bamford's wife is also a successful businesswoman, having founded the posh delicatessen chain Daylesford Organics. In her previous life as an air hostess, she was nicknamed "Doors to Manual", which snobs have subsequently transferred to Carole Middleton.

Strawberry crush

An appeal to all gardeners: should strawberry plants be hacked right back in August? That's what gardening expert Monty Don suggested in Gardener's World on Friday. But according to the BBC's own guide to growing strawberries, you only "cut off the old leaves and leave the crown and new leaves untouched". This "allows sunlight into the centre of the plant, ensuring a better crop next year". Monty's advice has caused quite a stir on the Twitter, where gardeners are raging that strawberries shouldn't be cut back until October. Some have such regular grievances with the advice dispensed on Gardener's World that there's even a hashtag called "shouty half hour". "Unfortunately, this happens quite often on GW," writes one Tweeter. "I despair sometimes as it makes folk think they are bad gardeners when in fact they've been taught wrong." Does anybody know who's right?

Pink Panther politics

François Hollande is doing little to end speculation he is in fact Inspector Clouseau. The bumbling French president was recently heard talking of the situation "in Tunisia", when he meant Egypt. Then he offered "condolences to China" after a terrorist incident, which actually happened in Japan. Now, he has prompted yet more guffawing, after referring more than once in a speech to the non-existent Macédonie. The correct French name for the former Yugoslav republic is Macédoine. "This would be like calling us "Englandland", explains mon homme in Paris. Last year Hollande's security guards forgot to bring guns on a trip to Brazil. Then his PM, Jean‑Marc Ayrault, was recently recorded asking, as he got off a plane: "Is it Monday today?" "No wonder we're in crisis," sighs my man into his pastis. "We have a PM who doesn't know what day it is, and a president who doesn't know what state he's in."

Croeso i Gymru

Welsh politician Keith Davies has revealed he temporarily forgot how to speak English while undergoing hospital treatment. He reverted to his first language of Welsh as he underwent neurological treatment in Cardiff, but none of the staff could speak Welsh. Such incidents have been known to happen when people wake up from a stroke, or have some other kind of brain trauma. Mr Davies told the story while trying to highlight the importance of hospital staff speaking Welsh. "Heddyr, my wife, told me the story because I wasn't in a condition to remember it," he says. "No one understood what I was saying because I was speaking in Welsh." It's not the first time he has temporarily lost control of his faculties. Last year, he apologised to the Welsh Assembly after getting "adversely affected by alcohol" at a five-star hotel.

Another win for Andy?

Members of the Groucho Club, experts in outlandishness, are being asked to name their rebel of the year. The Groucho Maverick Award was founded in 2010 to "celebrate people who have broken the mould in their own particular field, by challenging and making a significant contribution to our culture". Previous winners have included circus-mistress Nell Gifford, the journalist Nick Davies and Danny Boyle, who won last year for his Olympics opening ceremony. This year, for the first time, non-members are eligible to make a nomination. The winner receives a cheque for £10,000, a Gavin Turk sculpture, and life membership of the Groucho. The smart money is surely on Andy Murray.