The Feral Beast: Saleroom 'Jagger' struts off

He owns the whole week™

What next for Simon de Pury, the world's most glamorous auctioneer? Known as the Mick Jagger of the saleroom for his excitable manner, the raffish Swiss aristocrat has resigned as chairman of auction house Phillips de Pury, and sold his remaining stake in the firm to the Russian-owned Mercury Group. The auction house now reverts to plain Phillips. His departure marks a new chapter in the colourful history of the London and New York-based company, which was owned by the French billionaire Bernard Arnault when De Pury joined in 2000. De Pury later became the majority shareholder and focused on contemporary art, converting a disused sorting office in London's Victoria into a fashionable gallery and saleroom. Recently, he has appeared in a reality TV show in America, and was the subject of a revealing BBC film, The Man With The Golden Gavel. Does a TV career beckon?

ROH overtures

As the Beast predicted, David Mellor is considering throwing his hat into the ring to become the new chief executive of the Royal Opera House. The former Tory "minister of fun" has yet to apply, but friends say he may yet do so before the 24 January deadline. "David would obviously love to do the job," says a friend. "Opera is his great passion in life, and with his extensive contacts and experience he would be ideally suited to it. But it's a big, big life decision, and he has such a lot else on. So he's not at all sure." Last week, I revealed that Michael Portillo has ruled himself out from the race to succeed Tony Hall, who leaves to become BBC director- general next month. A well-placed source tells me Kathryn McDowell, managing director of the London Symphony Orchestra, would be a more plausible contender.

Dour duchess

Much savaging of the first official portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge, which critics have called "rotten", "ordinary" and "dour". But is it entirely the artist's fault? Paul Emsley was only granted two sittings with the duchess, in May and in June. This meant he had to do most of the work from photos. When Lucian Freud painted a portrait, he demanded numerous lengthy sittings, even forcing the Queen to undergo multiple visits, though the results were not to her liking. Emsley was chosen by the Duchess from a list of four artists offered by the National Portrait Gallery. Despite not considering himself a traditional portraitist, he did win the BP Portrait award in 2007. When it emerged he had painted the winning entry mostly from photos, he said: "Degas used them, why can't we? It's just another tool bringing a 20th-century element to a traditional craft." After the Queen's ordeal, who can blame Kate for choosing a painter with more manageable demands?

Watt now?

A familiar name surfaces in the wake of the Jimmy Savile report: Peter Watt. Speaking on behalf of the NSPCC, he described Savile as "one of the most prolific sex offenders we have ever come across". The last time Watt was in the news was when he became the fall-guy for Labour, following the scandal surrounding donations made by Newcastle businessman David Abrahams. Watt was then the baby-faced general secretary of the Labour Party, and was forced to resign. In his score-settling book Inside Out: My Story of Betrayal and Cowardice at the Heart of New Labour, Watt speaks of "being abandoned by the political leadership of the Labour Party without regard for the impact this would have on me and my family".

Shop tactics

In the 19th century, factory-owners recouped some of their employees' hard-earned wages by paying them in tokens that could only be used in the factory's store. News International would never stoop to such sharp practice, but what to make of the opening of a branch of BrandAlley opposite its Wapping offices? BrandAlley flogs luxury brands at knock-down prices. News International owns a 50 per cent stake in the growing company, and chief executive Rob Feldmann was previously mergers and acquisitions director at NI. Lunchtimes at the new Wapping branch find NI staff enthusiastically fossicking through the clothes and crockery in search of bargains, funnelling their earnings straight back to their employers!

Deer, oh deer

When the Exmoor Society offered a cash prize for the best poem inspired by the national park, penniless poets got scribbling. But the winner, Christian Ward, has admitted that he took somebody else's poem about Cumbria, and simply changed a few words. The 32-year-old from London won with "The Deer at Exmoor", but, after it was published in The Exmoor Review, people noticed its striking similarities to Helen Mort's "The Deer", which she wrote when poet-in-residence at Wordsworth's Dove Cottage. He replaced "father" for "mother", "river Exe" for "Ullapool", and changed a reference to a kingfisher south of Rannoch Moor to a peregrine falcon on Bossington Beach. Mort was appalled by the plagiarism, and Ward has now released a statement to The Western Morning News admitting it. In a pre-emptive attempt at damage limitation, he adds: "Furthermore, I have begun to examine my published poems to make sure there are no similar mistakes …. Already I have discovered a 2009 poem called 'The Neighbour' is very similar to Tim Dooley's 'After Neruda' and admit that a mistake has been made." Ah yes, a mistake.


James Harding was universally loved during his five years editing The Times. But despite his easy-going geniality, some staff were still dumbstruck in his presence. One such was the crossword-setter who found himself seated next to Harding at a dinner. Desperately fishing around for an opening gambit, the nervous chap did what any setter would, and looked for inspiration in words. "Did you know there's a 'hard-on' in Chardonnay?" he blurted, having found inspiration in the wine bottle in front of them. "Oh really?" replied Harding. "I'll have the Chablis."

Hot head

A portrait of Marc Quinn's head, made from his own frozen blood, has had to be removed from display in Denmark, after the freezer keeping it solid packed up. The work was on show at an exhibition of self-portraits at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebaek, when curators noticed the cooling unit beginning to fail, threatening to disgorge Quinn's fluids all over the floor. Happily, disaster was averted thanks to a staff member rushing out to buy a freezer. It's not the first time Quinn's Self series has suffered technical problems. In 2002 builders unplugged the fridge, causing some leakage.... Euchh!

Aaarghh! Don't kiss him, Kate!

The show must go on – or must it? Trevor Nunn's glittering production of Kiss Me Kate at the Old Vic was cancelled on Friday, after male lead Alex Bourne succumbed to an undisclosed malady. His understudy also got the bug – not, his organisers insist, the norovirus – so the rare decision to cancel was taken. Bourne has been nominated for best lead in a musical in the awards, meaning he could one day be more famous than his wife, pop star Rachel Stevens. The Old Vic reassures me Alex is better, and last night's show was due to go ahead. Break a leg!

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