The Feral Beast: Money, money, money, fur flies over Larry the Downing Street cat, and bargain drapes

 

As students graduate with debts of £50,000, was it sensitive of University College London to splurge thousands on a leaving party for its proctor?

Sir Malcolm Grant stepped down as UCL's £400,000 a year head this month, and was rewarded with an £18,000 beano, complete with Abba tribute band. A Freedom of Information request reveals the college spent almost £5,000 to hire Bjorn Again, one of the world's most successful tribute acts, who have played Glastonbury and Reading.

Staff also blew £650 on a VW Beetle photo booth, and £260 on a batch of biscuits in the shape of Sir Malcolm's trademark moustache. Challenged by the local newspaper West London Extra, a UCL spokesman said: "The entertainment was partly funded by a donor, and the total cost was less than £5 a head.

"All those who attended received a complimentary 20cl alcoholic or soft drink and a souvenir cookie – so I don't think you could call it extravagant by any stretch of the imagination."

Sir Malcolm, meanwhile, has become chairman of NHS England. Kerching!

Through the barber's keyhole

When Sir David Frost expired on the QE2, he sadly took his best showbiz secrets with him to the grave. But one important question has finally been answered – how did he maintain that barnet? Denis Norden called him "the man with the upside down hair", and for years, fans have wondered how he achieved his bouffant wisp.

Step forward Stanley Alwin, 81, his faithful hairdresser and pupil of Vidal Sassoon. Alwin reveals that Sir David's secret weapon was tonic water. "He had very, very fine hair," Alwin explains. "He wanted to give his hair more lift, but I just couldn't get it. So I rang Vidal, who told me to soak his hair in tonic water because it has iron in it, which gives the hair more body. Blow me down – it did the trick."

On one occasion, Alwin had to perform emergency treatment on Sir David's hair. "He phoned me from Heathrow. He'd landed very early and asked if he could come round and get his hair blow-dried before going on television. It was four in the morning. I did his hair in my bathroom. Then I took him up to the BBC. He didn't have any money on him, but three weeks later, on the doorstep of my flat was an envelope with a £100 cheque."

A true gent.

Too superior to shine?

What is it about Athens that has such a strange effect on BBC hacks? The corporation's last correspondent, Malcolm Brabant, had a psychotic episode and thought he was the Messiah after a yellow fever inoculation went wrong. Now his replacement, Mark Lowen, has raised eyebrows with an unguarded Twitter comment.

Having posted a photo of his production staff hard at work in the heat, he praised them as "the behind-the-scenes magicians who get me on air". But when Sky News journalist Ian Sherwood said "I thought you did it all on your own", Lowen shot back: "They're just the shoe-shiners really."

Lowen certainly has reason to feel superior, having won a first at Balliol and a scholarship to King's College School. It must be a great honour to shine his shoes.

Everyone loves Larry

Journalist Matthew d'Ancona set the cat among the pigeons yesterday, by suggesting Larry the Downing Street cat was unloved by the Camerons. His suggestion that Larry is little more than a PR stunt so incensed No 10 that not only did they release a hot denial, insisting they all got on "purr-fectly well", but Dave himself repeated the joke on Twitter, saying: "He and I get on purr-fectly well. The kids love him too." But his choice of words only strengthens the original allegation – which is that Sam Cam is the one who really dislikes the cat. Milky waters…

Closest thing to Bassey

Katie Melua gave a surprise performance at the opening of The Other Club, a new women's club in Soho, central London, on Friday. The 29-year-old singer said she couldn't believe 10 years had passed since "The Closest Thing to Crazy", the single that launched her career.

On Wednesday, she will play a 10th anniversary concert at The Roundhouse in London, and her latest album, Ketevan, has just entered the charts at No 6.

Melua opened with a flawless rendition of Shirley Bassey's "Diamonds Are Forever", whose lyrics seemed to chime with the philosophy of the club: "Unlike men, the diamonds linger/Men are mere mortals who/Are not worth going to your grave for." Just as well her new husband, James Toseland, stayed at home.

Portrait of the artist

Andrew Parker Bowles and various Bohemian grandees turned out for the funeral of Julian Barrow, the celebrated landscape painter, who has died aged 74.

Barrow had a prolific output, often knocking out four paintings a day. He worked from a studio in Chelsea once used by Whistler and Sargent. Though renowned for his hard work, he shared the whimsical humour for which his brothers, the writer Andrew Barrow, and the late Jonathan Barrow, are known.

When Goya's Duke of Wellington was stolen from the National Gallery in 1961, he would delight in strolling about Trafalgar Square carrying a copy. Nor was he precious about his own work: when the brother of Tory MP Sir Jerry Wiggin divorced his wife, he didn't mind that the couple simply cut their portrait down the middle. On another occasion, Barrow offered to paint the face of a second husband over that of an old one. "Oh no," the American lady replied. "My new husband doesn't wear red pants".

Curtains for someone

When Timothy Spall set sail round the British Isles on his Dutch barge for a BBC4 series, the boat became something of a celebrity itself. The actor would beg journalists not to reveal its location, to avoid unwanted attention.

Now fans of the series have a chance to own a little bit of history, as Spall has given away the barge's curtains to a charity shop. Tag Pet Rescue in Broadstairs, Kent, is offering a set of corded brown curtains, formerly the property of Mr Spall. "They look very worn, but they definitely came off the boat," says my man elbow-deep in the bargain bin.

Hurry hurry!

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