The Feral Beast: Hillary's feast feeds rumours

Even the claws are chocolate

Only weeks after Hillary Clinton stood down as Secretary of State, speculation is mounting that she has her sights on the White House for 2016. With Barack Obama obliged to stand aside at the end of his second term, the chatter in wonk circles is that she plans to throw her hat in, even though she will be 69. I can disclose that Alec Ross, one of Hillary's closest aides, gave a dinner for Democrat-supporting British politicians in London earlier this month. Ross was senior adviser to Clinton on innovation during her four-year tenure as Secretary of State. Guests at the dinner, held at a private members' club in the West End, included MPs from all parties and a smattering of celebrities with Democratic sympathies. "The issue of running for office didn't actually come up," whispers my man clutching the silver cloche. "But it's safe to say Mr Ross was testing the water for support of Hillary's possible nomination." Hillary has so far maintained a Boris Johnson-style coyness when asked about her presidential plans.

Self keeps it Strictly private

John Sergeant was a surprise hit on Strictly Come Dancing, thanks in part to his porcine build. So were producers hoping to find another unlikely star when they asked Will Self on to the show? The erudite novelist and thinker is not known for his dance moves, but has a striking figure, being 6ft 5in, gaunt, and whippet thin. I can reveal that makers of the hit BBC1 show were desperate to sign him up, but failed to persuade him. A new series is planned for later this year, but no names have yet been revealed. My source tells me producers were hopeful they could secure Self, but negotiations broke down at a late stage. It's thought there was some unhappiness over the pay structure, whereby the size of the fee depends on how far through the series the contestant lasts. Self is typically laconic when I ask about it: "I think they once asked me. I've been asked to do most of that celeb reality horse shit – but always declined. Obviously."

A pussycat bow for Hodge?

Writer Damian Barr has enjoyed a glittering career since he was signed up by The Times straight out of university. His latest book, Maggie and Me, a memoir of growing up in Thatcher's Britain, is being tipped as a big read of this summer. The book isn't published until May, but I gather film executives are already eyeing it up for the big screen. The question is, who would play Margaret Thatcher? Meryl Streep set the bar impossibly high in The Iron Lady, and Greta Scacchi, Maureen Lipman and Andrea Riseborough have had a crack. Barr tells me his preference is for Patricia Hodge, who once played Mrs Thatcher in a stage play. "And Anne-Marie Duff for my mum," he adds. What about for himself? "Some brilliant child actor, as I'm a kid for most of it." The only obstacle to international stardom could be the film's title. Maggi & Me is already a hit fantasy comedy in Singapore.

Boyd's dramatic surprise

William Boyd only got round to writing his first play last year, saying he had "finally managed to get this monkey off his back". Longing, based on two short stories by Chekhov, is currently at the Hampstead theatre in London. Though one reviewer felt it "struggles to achieve dramatic impetus", Boyd can't get enough. "I'm loving it, I must say!" he tells the Beast. "I've seen it a dozen times now. Can't stay away." So much is Boyd enjoying his new life in theatre, that he has begun a new play. Boyd is better known for his novels, which include Brazzaville Beach and Any Human Heart, but started as theatre critic for his university magazine at Glasgow in the 1970s. "A lot of my friends are actors, and I've always been stage struck," he told this paper last year. "I've got the theatre bug" he tells me now. "Another play is on the stocks."

Toynbee fury makes the news

A gripping spat broke out on Friday night between left-wing columnist Polly Toynbee and Daily Telegraph editor Tony Gallagher. It began when Toynbee accused his paper of not reporting on cuts to benefits. "Telegrph [sic] NEVER tells readers truth re benefit cuts," the Guardian columnist Tweeted. Mr Gallagher promptly hit back, accusing her columns of being "repetitive, leaden & hectoring", and saying "you are starting to sound like the crazy person on the bus". It all rollicked along to Fleet Street's delight, finishing with a demand from Toynbee that the Telegraph "print my col". Mr Gallagher's silence suggested to some voyeurs that La Toynbee had had the last word. But Mr Gallagher clearly had other plans. Yesterday's Telegraph ran a story quoting the work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith saying he is not seeking to cut the welfare bill further. On the front page, no less.

Wossy wonders who's the Lady

Jonathan Ross is tickled to have received an email from Amazon addressing him as "Lady Susan". "That is officially my new nickname," he declares on Twitter. It prompts the question – which Lady Susan is receiving Wossy's emails? Let's hope it's not Lady Susan Hussey, the Woman Bedchamber to the Queen, who is also Prince William's godmother. More likely, as the comedian lives in Hampstead, it's Susan Garden, Baroness Garden of Frognal, Hampstead. One can't help feeling Wossy, with his schoolboy humour, would enjoy meeting the Lib Dem peer – she's formally styled The Right Hon The Lady Garden.

One Justin or two?

Justin Hawkins – remember him? The gangly shrieking frontman of The Darkness is back, but with less swagger. Speaking to Q magazine ahead of a UK comeback tour, he admits he was thrilled to be once immortalised at Madame Tussauds, even if they got him wrong. "I was just happy to have one, really," he says. "What was a bit 'off' is that I had to wear – well, my waxwork had to wear – a weird scarf, because there's a join at the neck that would normally be concealed by a collar or something like that. I would never wear a scarf because it would be impractical – it would end up in my guitar strings." As to whether it's still there, he is doubtful. "I imagine that they've melted it down and made it into somebody that people would actually pay money to look at," he says modestly. "You could make two Justin Biebers out of me."

Arabella doesn't see the joke

Arabella Weir tells me she has mixed feelings about modern comedy, and worries that some of it is needlessly brutal. The author of Does My Bum Look Big In This?, who made her name on The Fast Show, tells the Beast that "a lot of modern comedy is cruel". "The comedy of 'today' is the comedy of embarrassment," she says. "I do think Ricky Gervais is a genius, but you're not laughing, you're mainly cringing." She adds: "Then there's stuff that's ludicrously slapstick, like Keith Lemon and you think to yourself – 'that's not sophisticated'." Whereas bottoms...

m.bell@independent.co.uk

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