The Feral Beast: Norfolk too flat for Assange

Playful, but with sharp claws
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The Independent Online

Philanderer, hacktivist, narcissist – Julian Assange has been called many things. Now he can add "castle-creeper" to the list, for I can reveal that the WikiLeaks founder has abandoned the Norfolk grandeur of Ellingham Hall for a 3,000-acre estate in East Sussex. He has taken up residence in a lodge on Lord Abergavenny's Eridge Park estate, near Tunbridge Wells, rented by divorcee cook Sarah Saunders. She put up £20,000 of Assange's bail money in 2010, having met him through her stepfather, Gavin MacFadyen, the director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism. Assange remains on bail, and has given police his new address. Vaughan Smith, with whom he had been living, says they parted "without animosity or acrimony", because Smith's wife has just had a baby. "Oddly, I miss him," Smith says. "In a way." Saunders, who runs a catering company, says she will have Assange "as long as I can", and that he has taken a shine to her Jack Russell, Whizz, and takes him for long walks. "I'm a cook, so hopefully he eats well," she tells me. "I hate the thought of him having to eat prison food, because he has a very sensitive palate." But she insists their relationship is not romantic. "He has many, many young suitors," she laughs. "I'm far too old to go out with Julian. He doesn't want to go out with someone old."

The curse of Titanic

Lawks! Julian Fellowes has been struck down with pneumonia. The Downton Abbey creator is tucked up in bed at his Dorset mini-Downton, beneath a battery of antibiotics. He had to cancel his London engagements last week, which included giving a speech at Annie Tempest's exhibition of sculpture at the O'Shea Gallery. Tempest is best known as the creator of Tottering-by-Gently, the toff-teasing cartoon strip in Country Life; she turned to sculpture after the death of her 18-year-old son Freddy, from a heroin overdose. Julian's wife, Emma Kitchener-Fellowes, gave the speech instead. "Julian's in bed, but he's still working on the next series of Downton," she tells me. Did his illness come from spending too much time on the set of Titanic? "No! Though we have just got back from seeing the marvellous new Titanic building in Belfast." Get well soon!

Ukip if you want to...

Simon Heffer's column in the Daily Mail leaves little doubt as to his views on Europe. But readers of Right Minds, the section of the Mail website that he controls, are wondering if he's turning it into a vehicle for promoting Ukip. He has recruited several prominent Ukip figures to write blogs, causing some eyebrow-raising higher up the Northcliffe hierarchy. First, there's Janice Atkinson-Small, a Ukip member who runs a centre-right think tank, Women On. Then there's the improbably named Alexander Boot, who, in a blog, calls Ukip "the only party that reflects the consensus of our population" on Europe. And, most bizarrely, there's Annabelle Fuller, a close friend of Nigel Farage and ex-Ukip press officer, whose PR company helped him to become leader. I'm told their bloggings haven't escaped the notice of senior execs, and there's "one hell of an inquiry" under way.

Banana drama

Part of the fun of reading Tom Bower's new biography of Simon Cowell comes from the thought of a heavyweight investigative journalist acquainting himself with the trashier recesses of pop culture. One photo caption describes Cowell posing "with a banana alongside Sinitta, Zeta Graff and Kelly Bergantz". Er, who? But I'm happy to report that Bower has maintained impeccably high standards when it comes to his own entertainment: he was spotted enjoying one of three Bruckner symphonies conducted by Daniel Barenboim at the Royal Festival Hall last week. Bower was there for the elephantine 80-minute Eighth symphony, known as The Apocalyptic.

Petsy gets her own back

When Petronella Wyatt wrote in defence of single, childless woman last month, she made the error of taking on Mumsnet. "Mumsnet is an excuse for inane females with nothing better to do to chatter about matters so simpering that you want to knock their teeth out," she declared. "Sorry, but it makes me want to barf." Sure enough, her piece got picked up by the Islingtonian sisterhood, who had a good old laugh at Petsy and made lots of rude comments, all anonymous, of course. But some good may have come of it. Having asked, "Why is there no equivalent for childless women?", a Mumsnetter has challenged her to set up her own network. So she has: Not Mumsnet will launch very soon. Let battle commence.

First Wright of the Proms

Violas are traditionally the butt of classical music jokes. (My favourite: what's the difference between a trampoline and a viola? You take your shoes off before jumping on a trampoline.) But Radio 3 director Roger Wright has revealed his own bête noire – the guitar. Unveiling this year's Proms at a glitzy press launch – head-turners included violinists Nicola Benedetti, Tasmin Little and, inexplicably, Kate Adie – Wright suggested creating a radio programme that reversed the Desert Island Discs formula so you name records you'd like to see washed away. He nominated anything by guitar composers Tarrega or Castelnuovo- Tedesco. So we look forward to seeing him at Prom 58, which includes Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez – for guitar.

Je ne sais quoi

A new game for listeners of BBC news: spot the presenter who can't pronounce François Hollande. So far, we've clocked Martha Kearney and Sarah Montagu refer to the presidential hopeful as "Françoise", a girl's name. The last we heard, Hollande is a man: he hasn't had breasts since his diet last year.

Kitchen diary

As the actress who plays Hayley in Coronation Street, Julie Hesmondhalgh is Britain's first transsexual soap character. She has been praised in Parliament for highlighting the issue. Now, she has revealed a more intimate Westminster connection: she once shared a flat with Yvette Cooper. Though she won't divulge any more details, she admits to "not having done her share of the dishes". Married to career-hungry Ed Balls, Yvette's probably used to that by now.

Fairy-tale wedding

He has explored the role of an artist; now Gavin Turk is exploring marriage. The not-so-Young British Artist ties the knot next Saturday with his partner of 24 years, Deborah Curtis. "It's a kind of experiment," he tells me. "But maybe every marriage is a bit of an experiment." What promises to be a dream wedding takes place at The House of Fairy Tales, Turk's latest installation, at Hall Place, Bexley, a Grade I-listed manor. "Several hundred" friends, some YBAs among them, are invited – and all the manor's visitors. With three children, why now? "We're quite slow at doing things."