David Cameron may try to distance himself from the scandal engulfing the BBC, but it has brought him embarrassment close to home.
For it was his best friend, the Eton- and Oxford-educated headhunter Dominic Loehnis, who recruited George Entwistle to be director general of the BBC. Cameron was best man at Loehnis’s wedding and Loehnis attended Cameron’s 44th birthday party at Chequers in 2010. Loehnis ran the recruitment process at headhunters Egon Zehnder, and provided the BBC Trust with a list of candidates, including “advice about the suitability of each candidate”. As Entwistle has showed himself to be unsuitable for the job, shouldn’t Egon Zehnder give its fees back? After all, they charge enough. It wasn’t much of a hunt, either, as Entwistle was BBC head of vision when found. Since 2010, Egon Zehnder has billed the BBC almost £400,000 plus VAT to fill three senior vacancies – digital media director, head of vision and director general. And two of these posts they filled with … George Entwistle!
Binchy breaks book record
Maeve Binchy achieved some astonishing feats during her life, outselling better-known Irish writers such as Oscar Wilde, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. In a 2000 poll for World Book Day, she even knocked Jane Austen and Charles Dickens off the top spot. Now, in death, she has broken another record, as her last novel, to be published posthumously, has become the most pre-ordered book on Amazon ever. A Week in Winter is out this month and is set in a hotel in a fictional town in the west of Ireland, with lots of log fires. Binchy was working on the final draft when she died in July, aged 72. Admittedly it has more Kindle pre-orders than hardback, but even so, it's more than any of her previous books. Excitedly breaking the news on Morning Ireland last week, presenter Cathal Mac Coille described Amazon as "the email book buying site". Well, sort of.
Newsnight's new star
Ratings for Newsnight are famously higher when Jeremy Paxman is presenting. But now a new star has emerged. Eddie Mair, normally heard on Radio 4's PM, helmed the show on Friday in the midst of its crisis, and did a brilliant job. The BBC's flagship news programme opened with an apology for the previous Friday's show, in which a senior Tory was wrongly accused of being a paedophile. Mair said: "Obviously, we wanted to ask questions of the BBC, but no one was available for interview" and followed it with a magnificent pause and an expression of disbelief. He carried on with aplomb: when the sound for a remote interviewee failed, Mair quipped: "The sound isn't working, the journalism isn't working", and later asked "Is Newsnight toast?" He ended the show by saying: "Newsnight will be back on Monday. Probably."
Never mind that an armed protection officer let his gun off in a car in Anglesey recently. A more serious incident has occurred within sniping distance of the Queen. For I can reveal that during a recent state procession down the Mall in honour of the President of Indonesia, a police officer dropped his gun. The member of the Mounted Branch was riding alongside HM when the mishap occurred 10 days ago. Happily, the gun didn't go off on hitting the ground, and order was discreetly restored. "We are aware of an item of equipment falling to the ground on Wednesday 31 October from a mounted branch officer who was on patrol in the Mall," confirms a Scotland Yard spokesman. "The item was immediately recovered by a uniformed officer and returned to the officer it fell from." Was it loaded? "Well, it was a belt containing a firearm." And has the officer been disciplined? "I'm not aware of anything." Perhaps it's not just the guns that are slipping.
Hammer blow for Sotheby's
James Stourton has temporarily stepped down as chairman of Sotheby's to write a biography of the late Kenneth Clark. But has his loyalty to the firm deserted him? For I understand he and his brother, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, are selling off the family silver, but have instructed rival auctioneers Bonhams to conduct the sale. Stourton has worked for Sotheby's since 1979, specialising in English and European paintings, and is an expert on the history of collecting. But the sale later this month of the contents of Marcus, his family's shooting lodge in Angus, has been handed to Bonhams in Edinburgh. Stourton reassures me there's a perfectly simple explanation. "I'm giving all the best stuff to Sotheby's," he says, " It's only the lower value stuff I'm giving to Bonhams." Cripes! Don't tell Bonhams.
A town of two countries
Confusion on a Ryanair flight is nothing new, but this takes some beating. The budget airline has listed the city of Derry as being both in the UK and Ireland, even though it has been part of Britain since at least the 17th century. This raises the spectre of a Ryanair schedule that would take off from Derry and land back in Derry in a never-ending circle of hell.
Nadine misses her party
Pippa Middleton hasn't been seen near her pal Vicomte Arthur de Soultrait since that embarrassing incident with a gun in Paris in April. But they had a near miss last week, when he swooped into town to attend Tatler's Little Black Book party of eligible single people. The lavish bash at Annabel's on Berkeley Square was just yards from where Pippa was attending a party in Burlington Arcade. Despite being on the list, Pippa kept away from the Tatler party. Also missing was Nadine Dorries, who is also on Tatler's list, as they say "her feisty style …would definitely make for a firecracker relationship". Probably just as well she's in the jungle.
Jack Whitehall's mother Hilary was among guests celebrating the launch of Made in Chelsea star Francis Boulle's book last week. She tells me her comedian son and husband Michael, a former actor's agent for Judi Dench and Nigel Havers, have been locked in a Bristol hotel room writing a comedy series together. Hilary was sporting a sinister black bandage on a sprained wrist, prompting speculation. "Everyone says I got it from hitting Michael," she tells me. "But I didn't. I got it from playing hockey."
Pippa has little to celebrate
Hurry, hurry! Piles of signed copies of Pippa Middleton's book, Celebrate, remain unsold at Daunt's bookshop in Fulham Road, London where the launch party was held.
The book offers handy tips on party-planning, such as "ice goes well with drinks", and, my favourite, "a turkey at Christmas is good for large gatherings". The author has signed her books in the royal way, by just putting her first name, "Pippa", in thick black marker pen on the frontispiece. Despite this, and a bargain £25 price tag, the books are starting to gather dust. Why not ship them to America, where they appreciate such things?