The Feral Beast: Luvvies' cinema up in smoke

Playful, but with sharp claws
Click to follow

Bad news for Elle Macpherson, Mariella Frostrup and BBC staff. The Electric cinema, favoured hang-out for the Notting Hill elite, has shut down following a dramatic fire yesterday. Thick black smoke was seen billowing out of the back of the building, and the site on London's Portobello Road was swiftly cordoned off by emergency services. "Big plumes of smoke were coming from the roof of the brasserie," one bystander panted to the Beast. The historic Electric cinema was bought by private members' club impresario Nick Jones, who has unrolled his Soho House chain across the world, with venues in New York, Berlin and Hollywood. He is married to Desert Island Discs presenter Kirsty Young. "An investigation is now being carried out and damage is being assessed," says a spokesman through the smoke.

Art house

Charles Spencer is throwing open his house next weekend for the Althorp literary festival. Among writers he will be hosting at his Northamptonshire stately home is the art critic Brian Sewell. No doubt they will have plenty to talk about, not least the thorny question of what a Rubens looks like. Two years ago, Lord Spencer was obliged to sell off a load of family possessions to raise money to fix the roof. Star lot among them was a portrait attributed to Rubens, which sold for £9m. But as this newspaper revealed, not everyone thought it was kosher, chief among them Sewell. "It's one of those pictures that doesn't quite ring true," he said at the time. "Frankly, I think anything under £20m is cheap for a Rubens." We also disclosed how auction house Sotheby's declined to sell it as a Rubens, because of doubts over its authenticity. Happily for Spencer, rival auctioneers Christie's were much more confident in their judgement, and landed the lucrative Althorp sale. And clearly relations remain healthy – Christie's is the lit fest's principal sponsor.

Mardy Polly

Polly Toynbee wrote a typically joyful piece in The Guardian ahead of the jubilee, calling the monarchy a "vapid family" and "a majestic delusion", just as celebrations kicked off. She then appeared on Andrew Marr's show, just in case anyone was in doubt about her views. Online readers went into meltdown, and now even the Graun's own staff appear to think she has over-done it. Sketch writer Michael White teased her in a piece, and staff writer Stephen Bates has openly condemned her in an article for Church Times, saying Polly's remarks looked "particularly boot-faced". He says that, having covered the jubilee for the paper's news section, "I saw only exuberant joy among those, of all classes, taking part". Does nobody agree with Polly any more?

Sex and custard

Alan Hollinghurst was in typically dry form at the Hay festival: when asked what his somewhat conservative family made of his gay-themed novels, he said: "They weren't crazy about it. My first book was terribly candid about sexual things in a way we weren't at home. Like most middle-class families, we didn't talk about gay sex over Christmas lunch." He also revealed he has become the literary executor of the celebrated poet Mick Imlah, who died of motor neurone disease in 2009, aged 52.

Jubilee blues

Among those piling in to attack the BBC for its jubilee coverage was the Tory MP Rob Wilson. He called it "low grade celebrity-driven drivel", and was much quoted demanding to know how the Beeb could get it so wrong. But as well as representing the people of Reading East, Wilson is personal private secretary to Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary with responsibility for, er, the BBC. No doubt his master will be pleased to note his attacks on the Beeb, not least since it was vigorous in its coverage of Hunt's closeness to the Murdoch empire. Relations with Hunt have never quite recovered since James Naughtie on Today replaced the minister's initial H with a C.

Not so friendly

When Ukraine was named host of the European football championships, it made sense for Westminster footy fans to plan a friendly with the Ukrainian Embassy. The parliamentary football team was teed up to play the embassy on 19 June. But after pictures emerged of Ukrainians waving swastikas, some MPs sensed disaster. Now, the match has been cancelled. "The revelations about the atrocious racism at football grounds in Ukraine has been absolutely vile," explains Russell Brown, Labour member for Dumfries and Galloway. "Uefa needs to condemn these scenes and make it absolutely clear that racism will never be tolerated in football. That means stopping games and removing teams from pitches if there are racist chants."

Dogs' dinner

Robert Skidelsky, the respected economist and biographer of John Maynard Keynes, is one of few people who knows how to save the eurozone. But even he is not immune to the odd crisis. A recent lunch party at his East Sussex home was ruined by dogs, after one of them pooed on the carpet and another ate the leg of lamb. Guests who had brought animals along included the publisher Carmen Callil, and the writer Victoria Zinovieff, daughter of the late Robert Heber-Percy. Callil's border terrier was blamed for relieving itself on the floor, while Zinovieff's whippet, Leafy, was guilty of snatching the meat. Lord Skidelsky's anger quickly subsided, after a brief burst of tears from Ms Zinovieff. But some guests wondered if it wasn't Zinovieff's dog that had committed both crimes: "Carmen was certain it wasn't her dog who fouled the floor," says my man holding the gravy boat. "A dog owner always knows its own shit." Buon appetito!

A Diaz a day...

Chris Martin may have married Gwyneth Paltrow, but some members of the Coldplay entourage aren't so hot on their A-listers. Estelle Wilkinson, who managed the band in its heyday, recalls turning away Cameron Diaz from a gig while on the door in Los Angeles. "I am rubbish at recognising anyone," she says. "I don't read celebrity magazines. Anyway, we had all the [acting dynasty] Arquettes come through and I thought, 'Yes, I know who you are'. And then I had three people coming to the door claiming to be Diaz. "With the first one I was like, 'You are plainly not Cameron Diaz'. By the time the fourth person tried to get in claiming to be Cameron Diaz, I was seriously thinking, 'Is word getting out? I'm not letting any Cameron Diazes in.' After sending them on their way, someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'No, no, no, no! That was Cameron Diaz!'" Happens to us all.

Eva's ideal decor – herself

As the final series of Desperate Housewives comes to a close next Sunday, has Eva Longoria morphed into Gabrielle, the vain and self-obsessed character she plays? Speaking to the Beast, she told how she asked producers if she could keep the Andy Warhol-style prints of Gabrielle plastered all over her house. "I remember the first time I walked on set, and I laughed so hard, saying: 'Oh my God, this is so narcissistic.'" So, um, why would you want them? "I was going to steal them anyway, for sure, as they would be perfect at home in my LA mansion." As I say...