The Feral Beast: Goves tuck in with their pals

Stalking track and field
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The Independent Online

Michael Gove met restaurateur Henry Dimbleby on holiday in Marrakech, then made him his food tsar. Now yet another Old Etonian businessman enjoying government endorsement turns out to be a Gove travelling pal. Octavius Black, the millionaire founder of Mind Gym, had the Goves to stay at his villa in the south of France last summer. They also attended Black's renewal of his wedding vows to ex-Tory candidate Joanne Cash in 2009, and when the Goves go on holiday without the Blacks, they leave their dog, Mars, to stay with the Blacks. Earlier this year, the Government launched a parenting scheme, and chose Black's scheme Parent Gym as one of the providers.

In a profile in yesterday's Times, where Gove's wife Sarah Vine is a columnist, Black was asked if it's true he has been on holiday with the Goves and the Camerons. "At this he lets out a strangulated noise. 'Ehhh …iggnn  … I'm not sure how relevant this is.' Surely being invited on holiday implies an intimate relationship. 'Speak for yourself. These holidays are a pretty large mix of people. I just don't think it's relevant... Who I have shared a holiday with or had an intimate muffin with or been to the theatre with, or whatever else it might be – it just doesn't seem relevant.'"

The tally of Old Etonian friends of Gove who have been given government roles now comes to four: there's also Sebastian James, a former Bullingdon member, who conducted a review of state school spending, and Charlie Taylor, the Government's expert adviser on behaviour. Taylor's children are at the same Kensington school as Gove's (and Cameron's), and the Goves are regular weekenders at James's country house in Kent. That's a lot of intimate muffins!

Peril in Venice

As campaigners for the preservation of Venice, they are committed to keeping La Serenissima intact. But the serenity of the Venice in Peril fund has been shattered after seven of its trustees walked out. The mass resignation, led by current chair, Anna Somers Cocks, and which includes founder member John Julius Norwich, follows months of wrangling over the direction the charity should take. Founded in 1966, the London-based group raises money to restore Venetian monuments and to stop the city from sinking. But in recent years, money has also been spent on environmental projects, which has had political consequences. Writer Jonathan Keates, who takes over as acting chairman, says the fund will now concentrate on restoring monuments. "We are aware of the importance of the environmental issues, but we don't feel we can do grand environmental projects. So it's better to leave that to the powers that be, and get on with restoring works of art, which is what we do best."

Somers Cocks, a journalist who set up The Art Newspaper, says she is now freer to campaign on how the city is run. "Some trustees didn't want to engage with the politics of Venice, but if you don't engage then you can't have an effect. We've successfully campaigned against the putting up of massive advertising hoardings on the Doge's Palace, and there are other issues, like the threat posed by cruise ships, that still need to be addressed." When I ask whether the split has been acrimonious, she laughs: "Oh no. We're all very polite."

Womad's wild about Harry

The royal princes have done their bit for Team GB at the Olympics, even giving a surprise interview to Sue Barker on Friday. But Prince Harry has narrowly avoided a doping scandal within his own circle, after attending the Womad Festival last weekend. He was spotted drinking cider and wearing a yellow Angry Birds hat at 4am with a group of friends, and, according to a local reporter, was "being shielded by his mates when the odd cannabis joint was doing the rounds". Harry is a regular visitor to the world music festival held at Charlton Park, Wiltshire, family home of Lady Natasha Howard, with whom he danced all night a couple of years ago. At a previous Womad, Harry was one of several people to be thrown out of the San Fran Disco, for lighting a cigarette on the dance floor. Organisers have zero tolerance to lighting up, and 10 drugs-related arrests were made at the event. One cheeky festival-goer surely wasn't being literal when he tweeted: "You know the acid has kicked in when you see Prince Harry backstage in a duck hat!"

At home with the Camerons

Samantha Cameron and Rebekah Brooks always seemed unlikely pals, forced together by their shared love of one man, as it were. Now, some light has been shed on what Sam Cam really makes of her husband's flame-haired bezzy. In his book The Fall of the House of Murdoch, Peter Jukes reveals how Sam and Dave "distinguish their real friends from those who have just latched on to them because of their power and celebrity. 'Well, there's x and there's y and there's z. And then there's Rebekah…". Last year, it was reported Sam Cam begged her husband to distance himself from Rebekah before the phone-hacking scandal erupted. I'm told that when Sam Cam has been asked subsequently how she feels about losing contact with Rebekah, she has been quite sanguine. After all, it's not as if they saw much of Rebekah before they came to prominence.

JKR and the Brechtian curse

As J K Rowling publishes her first novel for adults, one of the actors who starred in the first Harry Potter film is also getting serious. Ben Borowiecki, who played Angus in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, is staging two previously unseen works by Bertolt Brecht at the Edinburgh Fringe this week. But the production of How Much Is Your Iron? has been mired with so many setbacks that the cast members are joking of an "iron curse". "We've had a series of injuries each day before rehearsals," Ben tells me. "One girl poured boiling water over herself. I fell in the shower and got concussion. We've had two broken ankles and a broken hand."

Possibly the worst ordeal has been getting permission from the Brecht estate. The second work, Dansen, was written when Brecht was in exile in Denmark; it's a critique of the Danish government's relationship with Hitler in the build-up to the Second World War. After much grovelling, they were allowed to perform it. "What was really striking was the total apathy towards Brecht's work and his philosophies," says Ben. "It felt more like they were trying to squeeze the last drops of cash out of us rather than take an interest in the exploration of the plays." Who'd have thought?

A dreamy night at the Proms

A crowded Royal Albert Hall can become very close on a warm summer's evening, so who could blame Geoff Brown of The Times for letting his mind wander at Monday night's Prom? "As Mozart's Don Giovanni overture progressed, I forgot that I was listening to it," he wrote in his review of Gianandrea Noseda's concert with the BBC Philharmonic. Obviously Brown was all ears for the rest of the evening, although he has a reputation for listening with his eyes closed, giving rise to the critics' slogan "Everyone's slept with Geoff".