The Feral Beast: Secret is safe with the Queen
Sunday 21 October 2012
The Queen knew that Anthony Blunt was a Soviet spy, but kept him on as Surveyor of the Queen's pictures all the same. This sensational claim was buried in a Sunday Times story last weekend, pegged to the serialisation of art critic Brian Sewell's second volume of memoirs. Although MI5 had its suspicions about Blunt's loyalty, it could not be certain of his treachery until he confessed in 1964, in return for immunity from public exposure and prosecution. What has never been clear is whether security officials then informed the Queen of his former life. And if she did know, why was he not stripped of his knighthood at the time, rather than when he was publicly exposed by Margaret Thatcher in 1979? Sewell, a loyal friend of Blunt, was quoted last weekend as saying that "the Queen had been told he was a spy after his confession". But an angry Sewell told the Beast yesterday: "I deny saying that. I have never said that. I may have expressed an opinion in the past, but how could I possibly know? I have no knowledge of this, and I am coming to suspect that the only person still alive who knows for sure is the Queen herself." Buckingham Palace said "No comment."
Prue Leith has revealed how she fell out with her son, one-time Tory candidate and former speechwriter to David Cameron, Danny Kruger, after publishing her saucepot memoirs. The 72-year-old founder of Leith's cookery school was speaking at an Oldie lunch on Tuesday about her book, Relish: My Life on a Plate, in which she lifts the lids on various sexploits. Most scandalous of all was the secret affair she had with the husband of her mother's best friend, Rayne Kruger, whom she later married. "Daniel was really quite embarrassed when the papers picked up on it all," says Leith. "In fact, we had a bit of a row about it. But he later turned up at my birthday with an enormous present. I thought: 'Oh poor boy, he's upset about this morning and it's a peace offering. How sweet.' I opened it and inside was a megaphone. 'What's this for?' I asked. 'Just in case there's a person left on the planet who hasn't heard about your love life.'"
Listeners of Radio 3 are used to being treated like idiots, ever since the channel came under the auspices of Roger Wright, dumber-down-in-chief. One of the features of the morning show Essential Classics is to have the same celebrity join the studio for half an hour every day, during which time he or she chooses some music and chats to the presenter. But the station scored something of an own goal last week when it invited in the novelist Howard Jacobson. Presumably, it chose him to coincide with last week's Booker prize, because he won it in 2010. But the morning after Tuesday's prize, presenter Sarah Walker was forced to admit that they couldn't discuss last night's result, as this was a pre-recorded interview. So here we all were, thinking Radio 3 had a prominent person in the studio all week, when in fact it's done in one sitting, then carved up and presented as five separate interviews. At least Classic FM is honest about what it does.
In the male-dominated race to fill David Cameron's newly created police commissioner posts, Ann Barnes has emerged as a favourite in Kent. Martin Bell and Siobhan Benita have swung behind the former English teacher, who is running as an independent candidate for the £85,000-a-year job. But for all her refreshing qualities, was it wise to post a video on her website of a reworking of a Gilbert and Sullivan song, with the lyrics of "I am the very model of a modern major-general" reworded as "She is the very model of a Kentish p'lice commissioner"? Rival candidates have seized on the ditty as evidence she's not taking the police job seriously. Lib Dem candidate Dai Liyanage says: "We all like a laugh but the post is too serious to be the target of a joke, even one that falls flat. Gilbert and Sullivan were mildly subversive comedians a time long gone." Tory candidate Craig Mackinlay called it a "curiously lightweight approach to what is a serious election". But Ann, who has been touring the county in a hired camper van called Ann Force One, is unrepentant. "I may not take myself too seriously," she counters. "But this election is something I'm working very hard on and taking extremely seriously. These are destructive comments they're making. They have no sense of humour."
The Stone Roses may still receive worldwide recognition for their brand of Nineties Manchester rock, but not in Kensington, it seems. Lead singer Ian Brown was spotted having a hissy fit at the self-service checkout of the west London branch of Marks & Spencer on Friday. The machine had swallowed his £5 note, and nobody was scurrying forward to help him. My man at the checkout says that, though Brown didn't reel out the immortal line "do you know who I am?", he did reveal some rock star insecurity. "If I was wearing a suit and tie and a posh hat, you wouldn't be taking this much time to sort it out, would you?" he yelled. "I'm a customer! So serve me!" Staff at Marks can be grateful he kept it at that: in 1998, Brown was sent to Strangeways for a spot of air rage on a Paris to Manchester flight. Still, it's safe to assume Marks won't be getting a Second Coming from Brown. Boom tish!
Michael Portillo and William Hague once fell out so badly that they didn't speak to each other for seven years. This extraordinary, and now-forgotten feud, happened during the Noughties, and is touched upon in Janan Ganesh's new biography of George Osborne. "Yes, it's absolutely true," confirms Jo-Anne Nadler, William Hague's biographer. "It lasted several years, as Hague felt Portillo had critically undermined his leadership. And they didn't speak at all after 2001 as far as I know. They eventually patched it up when one of them made a TV programme, and interviewed the other for it. That broke the ice, and I understand they've been on far better terms since."
Once a year, moth-eaten literary types are forced to smarten up and head for the Guildhall, putting on their ballgowns to quaff champagne at the Booker Prize ceremony in the 12th-century splendour of the City of London banqueting hall. But the chatter this year is that there are plans to go west in future, and to hold the event at the Royal Albert Hall instead. "Yes, we have considered the Royal Albert Hall, but none of us felt it was right," says Ion Trewin, the Booker literary director. "We love the Guildhall, so we've booked it for next year and the year after."
The art of being one step ahead
The daring theft from the Kunsthal in Rotterdam on Tuesday of seven paintings worth £40m by Gauguin, Matisse and Picasso occured when there were no guards present. Gallery directors had done away with such old-fashioned follies in favour of an unmanned security system, and much good it did them.They should have taken a tip from the tiny hilltop commune of Monte Santa Maria Tiberina in Umbria, recently loaned a Caravaggio. As well as fielding a few heavies in dayglo jackets, the council closed the only road up to the gallery. Can't be too careful!
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