A secret Straw couldn't bury: his £640,000 booze cellar

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The Independent Online

While drinkers across the land count the cost of Gordon Brown's latest Budget, his colleague Jack Straw has just been obliged to reveal details of a financial asset that's unlikely to cause many to raise a glass to the Government in the coming days.

Following a question tabled by the Tory frontbencher Theresa Villiers, right, Straw has admitted that the Government's hospitality wine cellar, run by the Foreign Office, currently owns more than half a million pounds-worth of booze.

In response to Villiers' query on the estimated value of government alcohol stocks, the Foreign Secretary's official response reads as follows: " The cellar contains a mixture of fine and beverage wines, spirits, liqueurs and beers. The cellar contains just under 35,000 bottles. The current estimated value is approximately £640,000." Not enough to buy you a peerage, you might say, but certainly a hefty sum which the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury feels could be better spent elsewhere.

"It's a pretty huge amount of alcohol," Villiers tells me.

"I'm sure there's some very nice vintages in there, but they could sell these and spend money on a few more operations. When the NHS is suffering, does the Government really need 35,000 bottles of wine?"

Unfortunately when I put that very question to the Foreign Office no one was prepared to offer a response.

* On the treadmill of the party circuit, Pandora is used to receiving the odd celebrity "handbagging" from time to time.

But when I recently approached the actress Jane Horrocks, the last thing I was expecting from the cherub-faced star was a stinging rebuke.

Horrocks, you might remember, made her name in the 1992 West End play The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, which also helped to launch the Hollywood career of the play's director, Sam Mendes.

So when Horrocks arrived for the opening night of the British Antique Dealers' Association fair last week, I politely asked whether she'd congratulated Mendes on his recent appointment to Broadway.

"I am really here to look at some antiques," she snapped, " and I think it's about time I went and got myself some champagne."

As she disappeared snootily to pose for photographs, my bewilderment was shortlived.

"I think you'll find that she and Mendes were an item once upon a time," explained an amused onlooker.

* Helena Christensen's film career appears to be coming on by leaps and bounds.

The impeccably beautiful model recently told me she had just completed work on her first film made in her native Denmark.

Christensen has also carved out a successful career away from the catwalk as a photographer, but it's the acting which has proved most challenging.

"I find acting incredibly hard work," she said."It can be a really draining experience, it really can.

"I find that when I've finished a scene, the sensation is very similar to spending a few days on your own, all by yourself.

"You get a lot of stuff out of your system in the process.

"And let's face it, there's a lot of shit inside of us that needs to get out."

There certainly is, Helena.

* Such is the fanfair surrounding the Da Vinci Code battle at the High Court that I hear Virgin Books have signed the Daily Telegraph entertainment hack Hugh Davies to write a book on the trial.

"The interesting part of the trial was the testimony of the book's author, Dan Brown," Davies tells me.

"There's just so little known about him. He started off giving evidence very confidently, but as the case progressed, you could see how uncomfortable he was becoming with all the publicity he was attracting."

Davies will have to get his skates on. The book is due to be released after Easter, once the High Court's decision is announced.

* David Cameron bagged his first high-profile defection earlier this month when a Labour parliamentary candidate, Rehman Chishti, decided to join the Tory ranks.

Chishti, a practising barrister, stood for Labour at last year's general election but has since claimed to have been inspired by the new Tory leader.

Not all his new-found colleagues are totally cock-a-hoop at his arrival, however. "The rumour going round is that Chishti still hasn't managed to clear out of his office all the various pictures of himself posing with Labour cabinet ministers," I'm told.

"The feeling is that it would be a wise move on his part to remove all trace of his previous political loyalties, now that he's hoping for his new career in the Tory party to take off."

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