The Feral Beast: Nick Serota's loofah, the luck of Lloyd Webber, Fergie's mistakes, plus Nick Robinson and sex


The groovy revamped Tate Britain opens on Tuesday, and there's an all-day party to celebrate on Saturday, with Hot Chip on the decks. What a different scene would have greeted you only a couple of years ago. One of the biggest changes is the opening of The Grand Saloon, a first-floor room overlooking the Thames. For years it has been divided into offices, one of which was the director Sir Nicholas Serota's private bathroom, complete with tub and loofah. Sadly, I gather the bath has now been thrown out with the bathwater. "I can confirm that Nick has had a bath in there," says a spokesman when I call, "but he moved offices some time ago, and it hadn't been used for a while." Sir Nicholas is chairman of the Turner Prize jury. Surely "Tate director bathing" is an installation we'd all pay to see?

Putting it back

Andrew Lloyd Webber attended the opening of a new school theatre on Thursday, built with a £3.5m donation from his foundation. The Cats composer spoke of his luck at finding success in a career he loves, and encouraged others in his position to put something back. Aw, brings a tear to the eye! Makes you wonder why so many people take such an instant dislike to Lloyd Webber. Possibly because, as the librettist Alan Jay Lerner famously put it: "It saves time."

Take cover! Deluge incoming

Few footballers emerge unscathed from Alex Ferguson's autobiography, which lobs grenades at everyone from Roy Keane to David Beckham. But even his publishers have been scurrying for cover since the book's release, because of its many mistakes. One reader was astonished to receive a personal apology from Jamie Hodder-Williams, CEO of Hodder & Stoughton, after having drawn his attention to the list of 45 errors compiled by footballing forum Red Issue. "Although a very large number of corrections were made, we plainly did not pick up everything," grovels Hodder-Williams. "Possible corrections that have so far been helpfully pointed out are being checked and will be included in future reprints." He goes on to say how sorry he is "that you feel the expenditure on the book was not worthwhile", and offers a full refund if the book is returned to him at the London head office. The Hodder postroom won't thank him once word of his offer gets out!

Drinking to a dry January

Rosie Boycott helped launch the Dry January campaign yesterday, run by the charity Alcohol Concern. In a frank and moving article in The Daily Telegraph, she recalled her days of carrying miniature vodka bottles in her handbag, and the shame of being drunk at her mother's funeral. The piece ended with various fact boxes on the dangers of boozing, and ways to find help. So how helpful of the Telegraph to supplement Rosie's article with a "16-page festive wine supplement", which, it boasted, came "free with today's paper". If that didn't quench your thirst, wine writer Victoria Moore dedicated her column to the joys of having "a quiet cocktail at home", and added, for good measure, a recommendation for a Gin Advent calendar, priced at £99.95. Yup, behind each door is a 30ml bottle of gin, just the way to count down the days to Dry January. Cheers!

Come on Nick, fess up!

Is Nick Robinson losing his touch? In a magazine Q&A to promote his new book, the BBC's political editor is asked how often he has sex. He replies: "I seem to remember Nick Clegg answered that question and it didn't work out so well for him." Except, of course, Clegg wasn't asked that at all. Piers Morgan asked him how many women he had slept with, to which he answered: "No more than 30." Either Robinson has a poor memory, or he's even weaslier than Clegg. Nul points.

New stone for Leigh Fermor

Friends of the late Patrick Leigh Fermor gathered at his graveside in Worcestershire last week for the unveiling of a new headstone. Colin Thubron, Artemis Cooper and Bruce Chatwin's widow Elizabeth were among those who attended the short service to bless the shiny new headstone in the churchyard at Dumbleton, where he lived. A line of a poem by Constantine Cavafy is inscribed in Greek on the Portland stone headstone, which reads: "He was of that excellence which is of Greece." After a heroic war, in which he parachuted into Crete with the SOE, Leigh Fermor spent many years on Greece's Mani peninsula. His house in the Peloponnese has been open to the public since he left it to a museum in Athens. One suspects it may draw rather more visitors since featuring in Before Midnight, the recent hit starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.

Throwing in the trowel

Gardener Monty Don is becoming a polarising figure. After my item last week, Nigel Hunt from Harrogate wrote in to defend him, saying he's an "intellectual gardener", and better than the two presenters he replaced on Gardeners' World. "If you really want to do gardening a favour," he adds, "don't campaign against Monty but try to get BBC to dump the shallow [Alan] Titchmarsh from Chelsea Flower Show." Funny – on Thursday, that's sort of what happened when the BBC diminished his role so much that he threw in the trowel.

Back of a fag packet

Alan Johnson won enthusiastic reviews for his moving memoir, This Boy, which helped cement his position as one of Westminster's most likeable and transparent figures. But a former colleague from the postal workers' union recalls a time when Johnson wasn't quite so rigorous in his duties. Writing in The Journalist magazine, Chris Proctor recounts how the union was defending the principle of a single tariff for delivering letters anywhere in the UK. "Some nosy parker at a press conference asked what was the real cost of delivering a letter from London to the Highlands," he writes. "We consulted. A tenner was his bid, but my journalistic instincts inclined towards 20 quid. Alan compromised. 'Fifteen pounds,' he declared. This was duly reported in the following day's media … So £15 became a fact referred to long after both of us ploughed non-postal furrows." Some years later, one of Johnson's aides asked Proctor for the research papers used to establish the figure. "I despatched the back of a fag packet," he said.

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