Hit & Run: A very tall story
Wednesday 11 February 2009
Saturday is Valentine's Day, the 20th anniversary of the day Ayatollah Khomeini issued his fatwa against Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses. And while enlightened commentators pick over the significance of the novel, the row, and the ramifications for Islam and the West, how is the author coping with this reminder of his near-death experience? Oh, look – he's at a party with a sultry actress.
He's always at a party with a sultry actress. Sir Salman, 61, currently appears on more red carpets and at more charity soirées and celebrity openings than David Walliams, always with his arm round the waist of a considerably younger beauty.
The new girl on his literary arm is Pia Glenn, 32, currently appearing as Condoleezza Rice in a Broadway musical. She towers over Rushdie by several inches, but he does seem to like his companions tall. Aita Ighodaro, the stunning 25-year-old who was his arm-candy at the Cowdray Park polo last summer, loomed over him like a lamppost. So did the 24-year-old actress Olivia Wilde, whom he squired to the White House Correspondents' Dinner in Washington a year ago; and Riya Sen, 27, the much swooned-over Bollywood actress. His fourth wife Padma Lakshmi, has a few inches on him, so his interest in leggy beauties since their divorce may be a subtle tribute.
Rushdie has always had a showbiz streak ("Salman," Martin Amis once asked him, "do you actually have any friends who aren't famous?") and comes on like a writerly rock star. Remember when he swapped banter on-stage with Bono at a U2 concert? More recently MTV viewers caught him briefly kissing the back of Scarlett Johansson's neck in the video of her song "Falling Down". Appearing (as himself) in 'Bridget Jones's Diary' gave him a taste for celluloid, and he appeared in Helen Hunt's 2007 movie Then She Found Me. Last November, he turned down the chance to appear on American TV in ABC's Dance With the Stars, but it was close.
Top British novelists do not, as a rule, consort with actress-model-whatevers and get their pictures in the party sections of ES and New York magazines. You won't find William Boyd or Kazuo Ishiguro snapped with their hands on the rear ends of leggy ingénues in plunging Dior couture. You won't catch Ian McEwan or Sebastian Barry showing up in the new music vid from Florence and the Machine.
But how foolish to disapprove of such tactics. At a time when book sales are plummeting, and publishers and booksellers struggling, shouldn't writers do everything they can to keep their names constantly in the public eye? Is there any reason why A.S. Byatt shouldn't appear on I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here? Why JG Ballard shouldn't guest-star on The Sunday Night Project? Why Sir Tom Stoppard shouldn't appear at the Baftas squiring Eva Delicieux, 24, the unfeasibly tall Brazilian model and "aspiring playwright"? John Walsh
The bonus question is: who else merits them?
If there's one thing guaranteed to unite the wrath of all Britons outside the Square Mile, it's bankers' bonuses. But there are other professions which could benefit from performance-related pay.
Take cleaners. You might think anyone could don a pair of marigolds, but you need look only to hospital infection rates to see the work is harder than it looks. What would happen if cash prizes were handed out for the cleanest wards? Goodbye, MRSA.
Haringey Council's Sharon Shoesmith hasn't done much for their reputation, but social workers could do with an incentive. Surely taxpayers could spare a few pounds to reward staff that pull families from the brink of self-destruction?
Then there's the tax man. If inspectors got a bonus every time they closed an offshore tax loophole we'd get some cash back from the oversized City pay packets. And there'd be fewer of those nauseating Brits who spend half the year in Monaco.
Or what if bonuses were dished out to marriage counsellors for every couple saved from a split? It's a Conservative policy waiting to happen.
And if MPs spent as much time boning up on economic affairs as they did filing expenses, they might have been better equipped to keep an eye on the bankers. So why not swap the John Lewis list for a bit of performance-related pay? Emily Dugan
Is Amazon selling us down the river?
Amazon has just released its second-generation electronic reader, the Kindle 2, and, again, we saps this side of the Atlantic can't get our hands on it without paying international postage. Well, maybe we're not interested anyway. MP3 players are one thing – but you don't make a playlist of books and read six of them on your way to work, do you? And who wants a paperback that's 40 times the price of the real thing? (Still, I'll be at the front of the queue when they turn up.) Tim Walker
Pants that make girls wink
Real men don't wear pink, so they say, but sales figures at Selfridges are defiantly rose-tinted – ahead of Valentine's Day, the London store has sold out of men's underwear not only in pink, but in purple as well. Could this be the latest seduction technique in the male, er, arsenal? "It's great to see British men being more adventurous in 'what lies beneath'," says Selfridges' menswear director David Walker Smith. With traditional machismo getting crunched in the economic maelstrom, perhaps boys are investing their feminine sides to remain in the pink? Harriet Walker
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