The Feral Beast: Osborne reveals his novel name

Just wait for the musical

Why did the young Gideon Osborne change his name to George? He has always said it was because he worshipped his grandfather, also called George, a war hero. But at a children's Christmas party at No 11 Downing Street last week, the Chancellor revealed that one of his favourite books is Vanity Fair. As fans of Thackeray's novel will know, it features the dashing Captain George Osborne, a young cad who spends all his money and then dies on the battlefield at Waterloo, leaving his pregnant wife Amelia widowed.

It has always been assumed that the Thackeray namesake was just a coincidence, but given the Chancellors' love for the book, could this be the real reason he swapped Gideon for George? An aide insists not, saying that Vanity Fair only became a favourite since the name-change. A happy coincidence!

Wapping bill

Confusing messages from Wapping, as financial results show News International lost £153m last year, but found £10.8m for Rebekah Brooks's leaving present. No one seems more muddled than Rupert Murdoch, who popped into town a few days ago. The 81-year-old was seen dining at a fish restaurant in Wapping, where, according to my man behind the plant pot, he ordered the budget-friendly £19.95 set menu. But his austerity drive was ruined when he suffered a sudden flush of generosity, and tipped the waitress £70. Perhaps she had red hair.

Musical chairs

What next for James Harding the talented editor of The Times, who bowed out last week? His departure is a blow for George Osborne – the two men were close friends. It's also bad for Next boss Lord Wolfson, one of George's bosom buddies, who became a regular contributor to the Times op-ed pages under Harding.

Still, the Prime Minister could do worse than recruit Harding as director of communications, given that he is universally liked and respected by the press. Harding was skilfully leading negotiations on press reform until his sudden departure. And maybe Dave should be looking for a new press man, given that the current one, Craig Oliver, made the mistake of becoming the story last week; it was claimed he had tried to threaten The Daily Telegraph not to publish its story about Maria Miller's expense claims.

Mind you, Dave's record on hiring ex-News International editors isn't strong: Andy Coulson is facing criminal charges. But would Rupert give his blessing to hiring Harding?

Bonnie Prince

Hurrah for April Ashley, one of the first Britons to change gender, who was created MBE on Thursday. Ashley is the former Liverpool sailor who bravely underwent surgery in Morocco in 1960. Prince Charles was handing out the medals at Buckingham Palace, and April was quite taken by him.

"I was very pleased to meet him, and to find that he was much nicer looking in real life than in pictures," she tells me. "He had lovely twinkly eyes, and was incredibly warm. How he managed to pull that off while awarding honours to a hundred people I don't know." Film-makers are working on putting April's life onto the big screen, and she tells me that Rooney Mara, who played Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is desperate to take the leading role. Actor Simon Callow was among friends cheering April on from the front row, but April only had eyes for Charles.

"I was just full of admiration of him," she says. "He's a bit short, but you can't have everything. I couldn't get over how charming he was." Camilla – watch out!

Singing grace

Some parents say thank you and breathe a sigh of relief when their children leave school. Not composer Sir John Tavener, who has written a new Christmas carol to thank Sherborne Abbey for his daughters' education.

The 68-year-old wrote O That We Were There! as a thank you for the happy years his daughters Sofia and Theodora spent at the Dorset school. The carol was performed for the first time at the school's Christmas concert yesterday, and was described by one audience member as "hauntingly beautiful". There was an added poignancy, as the performance was dedicated to the memory of Blossom Barrow, a family friend, who died of cancer this year, aged 12.

Tavener, whose carol The Lamb is also a favourite at Christmas, wrote Song for Athene, which reached a worldwide audience when it was sung at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Shopping Spice

Victoria Beckham's snooty appearance at the Viva Forever! premiere prompted some to say she was only there to help the other less rich Spice Girls make a buck. But Mel C's doing fine: she popped up on QVC the other day to flog a new album, Stages. She's following in the footsteps of Charlotte Church and Dolly Parton, who have also done gigs on the shopping channel to reach out to new audiences.

But what's this? QVC's PR people seem a bit sketchy about Mel C's latest contribution to world culture: a press release announces Mel C was singing from her album Changes. No album of that name by Mel C is known to exist. Never mind: as Mick Jagger rightly noted on the David Letterman show, "Nobody wants to hear anything from your new album." Not even your promoters.

Radio phwoar

Radio 4's joint series with the British Library, The Listening Project, has been well received. The idea is to record intimate conversations between pairs of people across the country. But should the offering from BBC Cumbria have come with a taste warning? In "A Bride For Richard", divorcee Richard, 61, tells his pal Bill about plans to find a wife in the Philippines.

A sample: "That last woman I met from Keswick, through the dating agency, she was 65, a nice woman, well presented, but not for me. I can get younger ones, I can get better ones." "20-year-old Philippinos?" "Yeah!" "A better option?" "Is it not?" And the BBC wonders why people say it has a problem with women....


Jamie Oliver is the victim of this year's Notting Hill panto, which every Christmas puts a dark twist on a familiar tale, with a few celebrities thrown in. The actor Tom Hollander and Lily Allen's dad Keith are regulars, and film producer Eric Fellner's son Rafael makes his panto debut. Oliver Twisted features a cook serving gastro gruel, who says "Bish bash bosh" as he doles up the slop. And there's also a Nancy character with long flame-red hair, who sends urchins out to earwig for stories. Apparently Rebekah Brooks has been invited. Oh yes she has!

Well, fancy seeing you here, Sis!

Funny thing in Vogue this month: the deputy editor has written a piece about Westminster. Emily Sheffield does a "day in the life" as a parliamentary sketch writer, swapping jobs with The Times's Ann Treneman. As anyone with Debrett's to hand will know, Emily is half-sister of Samantha Cameron. Yes, her brother-in-law is the Prime Minister.

You might expect a hint of this in a 2,000-worder. But no. The closest we get is when she runs into an astonished George Osborne and admits, "I know the Chancellor a little." Is disingenuous the new black?

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