The Feral Beast: Lib Dems pass the hat round

A different games maker
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The Independent Online

Exciting leaked news from next month's Lib Dem party conference! President Tim Farron will ask everyone to leave some lolly to the party when they die. Farron will make his cheerful suggestion at a special event at The Grand Hotel in Brighton on 26 September. It comes as the party faces a frightening financial future, with one in five members deserting out of dissatisfaction over the party's role in the coalition. A full page ad in the conference programme bleakly states: "Because only two things in life are certain…". It then goes on to announce the launch of the "legacy fund campaign". Last year, Nick Clegg asked all his ministers to pay 10 per cent of their salaries to the party, to tide it over. Asking people to leave you money is quite normal for charities; the question for the Lib Dems is: who's fading faster – the members or the party?

Pond swim

Cast members from Downton Abbey and the adventurer Ben Fogle were among the more random celebrities at an Olympics party in aid of Jessica Ennis last week. But Fogle actually has some claim to athletic prowess: he is in training to swim the Atlantic. "The plan is to do it next year," he tells me. The idea is to raise awareness of the damage being done to the world's oceans, although obviously he likes to keep fit: he has already rowed across the Atlantic, with ex-Olympic rower James Cracknell. Fogle has been training in the Serpentine in Hyde Park, and says he plans to do the swim without a cage, so will be at risk of shark attacks, as well as exhaustion and sunburn. Only one man has ever swum the Atlantic before: a Frenchman called Benoît Lecomte, who completed the 3,716 miles in 73 days in 1998. His first words on emerging from the water were: "Never again."

Rock cakes

Blur slightly stole the limelight for tonight's closing ceremony by announcing this would be their last gig ever. As fans of The Who will know, this isn't always quite true. But maybe it is time for Damon Albarn and pals finally to hang up their guitars and retire to a big house in the country. In a promotional interview with Shortlist magazine, guitarist Graham Coxon reveals how far they have come from their rock'n'roll heyday. Asked about life on tour, he says: "We do a lot of shopping. I'll go and buy a pair of Clarks or something. Oh – and if there are any local delicacies, we like to get them on the rider if we can." Like what? "Well... when we were in Falmouth, we had some beautiful cream teas. And there was a bit of a Cornish pasty obsession. God, that doesn't sound very good, does it? They were tasty, though." They'll be making cheese next. Oh, wait….

Double act

One of the surprise highlights of the games was watching Clare Balding and Mark Foster chatting away while presenting the swimming. The secret to their dynamic, says Foster, is that Clare doesn't know too much about the sport. "She doesn't know too much in depth, and when she doesn't know what she's talking about, she'll ask," he told me at an Olympics party last week. "She'll say, 'Tell me about that', and then she'll listen, and have a conversation with you. Of course, she reads through everything before, so she does know, but it's having a genuine conversation that makes it work." The pair have worked together before, presenting last year's world championships. Foster loves his new life as a pundit, but he misses the swimming. "I have to be in the water. I find it spiritually relaxing. You can be alone, and nobody can get to you. Whereas in the gym, people bother you." Really?

Axe mystery

Possibly the most intriguing story in the phone-hacking saga is the still unsolved murder of Daniel Morgan, 25 years ago. He was the private detective found with an axe in his head in a pub car park in Sydenham, south London. The prime suspect was Morgan's business partner, Jonathan Rees, who was questioned at the time but later released without charge. Rees was later sentenced to seven years for conspiring to plant cocaine on a woman to discredit her in a child-custody battle. On his release, he was an investigator for the News of the World under Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson. Now, a group of artists is staging an exhibition influenced by these bizarre and macabre events. It will be opened by Morgan's brother Alastair on Wednesday at the Bread and Butter gallery in Islington, north London. It was to be called Hacking, but Gilbert and George suggested adding a political dimension. So now it's Hacking and Smooching.

Reel time

The trailer for the new star-studded film adaptation of Anna Karenina, out on 7 September, promises a lavish production, Keira Knightley taking the title role opposite Aaron Johnson as Count Vronsky. The screenplay is by Tom Stoppard, and Joe Wright directs. For all the glamour, I understand filming of key scenes took place not in St Petersburg but in the more humdrum environs of Didcot, in Oxfordshire. As a train plays a key role, the old chuffers at Dicot Railway Museum were used. But, to keep it authentic, Wright made a plea for eastern Europeans to star as extras. Funny old world.


The latest bad news story to be buried by Olympic glory was The Guardian's annual report. Published on Friday, it revealed that Guardian Media Group, which owns the newspaper, saw its operating losses double to £129m. To be fair, the report is published round about this time of year anyway, although it was 10 days earlier last year. Private Eye recently claimed that the editor of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, had agreed with his counterpart at the Daily Telegraph not to air each other's dirty laundry in public. But such fanciful rumours were scotched by yesterday's Telegraph, which found space to report on GMG's woes in full.

Art and soul

Since his death last week, Robert Hughes has been called the "greatest art critic of our time", as well as the rudest. But he was capable of kindnesses, as one junior critic, JD Erlich, remembers, "We were at an Embassy do and, as the art critic of a tiny, tiny American newspaper, I was grateful to have a minute of his attention. Ann Leslie, the obnoxious Daily Mail writer, pushed rudely between us and began talking. Hughes quietly said: "I'm talking with this young woman. May I speak with you later?" Leslie was furious … Hughes and I spent the next hour, amongst all those glittering people, sitting in the corner, talking about modern art. It was one of the most important moments in my life. Hughes was more than brilliant. He was kind."

Opera set won't take to the aria

Which millionaire industrialist left 10 seats empty at Glyndebourne the other day because it was too windy for his chopper to land? The party's non-arrival caused much twittering in the stalls, as tickets for the Sussex opera house, even at £200 a pop, are always much in demand. A caterer was also left with an uneaten picnic for 10. The prominent City figure took the view that it wasn't worth trying to get there by any other means, so aborted. Ironically, Glyndebourne has recently erected a wind turbine, to cut its carbon emissions. It's an ill wind, as they say....