Another sacked minister holds on to his residence

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The Independent Online

* John "no jobs" Prescott is rightly ridiculed for clinging on to his salary, Jags, and grace-and-favour residence. But what of Labour's other fallen minister, Jack Straw?

The former foreign secretary, who was sacked (as predicted here) earlier this month, has been allowed to stay on at Chevening, the palatial Kentish pile where he's been spending weekends these past three years.

It's a virtually unprecedented state of affairs, since the 17th-century Inigo Jones mansion, which is surrounded by a 3,500-acre estate, is supposed to be the official residence of British foreign secretaries.

Straw is now Leader of the House, a relatively minor role that normally commands a modest apartment in Whitehall. His replacement, Margaret Beckett, will have to make do with her current flat, in Admiralty House.

According to insiders, the situation is causing disarray in the Foreign Office, since it isn't clear how Beckett will now entertain visiting foreign leaders.

"It's a shambles," says one source. "Marge is obviously a keen caravanner, but I can't see that being a viable alternative."

Downing Street sources say that Straw was allowed to retain Chevening as part of a similar "peace deal" brokered between Tony Blair and John Prescott over the Deputy Prime Minister's Buckinghamshire pile, Dorneywood.

The Cabinet Office, which is in charge of such matters, confirms that Straw is staying put: "We've been told that there will be no changes to the country residences."

* Since the departure of Stella McCartney's stepmother, she can devote her energy to the twin causes of fashion and animal rights. The modish designer is reportedly taking a hands-on approach to persuading the Guards to dispense with their bearskin caps.

According to the pressure group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, she has helped the Ministry of Defence to create a fake fur alternative.

"They kill one black bear in Canada for each of her Guards' hats, and Stella McCartney has designed an amazing fake," reads a press release. "But for some reason they just won't go with the faux."

Over at the MoD, a spokesman says Peta's news release is news to him. "We've been looking at a synthetic hat for a while, but I've not heard of Stella being involved."

* He's been keeping it hidden all these years, but Hugh Hefner turns out to be a secret culture vulture. On Monday, the Playboy impresario turned up unannounced at the Globe Theatre in London, and demanded to be taken on a tour.

"He brought a photographer, and several scantily clad girls, who were wearing stilettos," reports one fellow sightseer. "They were there a good hour, and posed for photographs. A guide told us he seemed to have developed a sudden interest in Renaissance history, and asked a lot of well-informed questions about Shakespeare."

A spokesman for the Globe is equally bemused. "Mr Hefner came on a private visit, with several guests. They hadn't told us they were coming, but we agreed to give them a private tour."

* Noel Edmonds, whose career has allegedly never been better, is nonetheless spitting feathers.

The creator of Mr Blobby claims to have been censored by no less an organ of free speech than Press Gazette.

Last week, the magazine asked Edmonds whom he'd most like to interview, and what question he would ask.

He named the Daily Mail's editor, Paul Dacre, and proposed: "Was your conscience surgically removed, or did you never have one?" Bizarrely, by the time Edmonds' rapier comment was printed, it had been replaced with the anodyne: "I'd definitely need more than one question."

The big man isn't impressed. "Noel was told the change was made for legal reasons," says a chum. "He can't think why."

* Nancy Dell'Olio may be queen bee of England's football wives, but she's less enthused by our national cuisine. In advance of the World Cup, Sven's paramour discussed her culinary tastes in a Q&A interview with Waitrose Food Illustrated. When the magazine's editor, William Sitwell, asked: "Marmite, love it or hate it?" she responded: "What's Marmite?"

This sent eyebrows skywards. "We were in Claridges, and everyone in the room fell silent," says Sitwell. "So I decided to grab a waiter and get a plate of Marmite sandwiches for her to try."

Initial reports suggest the Italian "lawyer" spat her first (and only) mouthful out. But Sitwell insists otherwise: "Nancy only tasted one, and was quite disparaging, but her table manners were actually impeccable."