Beckham demonstrates a neat touch with his head

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The Independent Online

When David Beckham's six-year-old son, Brooklyn, wants help with his maths homework, he meets the response: "oh my God, I can't do this!"

From now on, English will be quite another matter, though. For Beckham has developed a keen interest in three of our greatest contemporary authors: John Banville, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Alan Bennett.

Recent works by the highbrow writers are among those requested by the England captain in his role as judge of this year's British Book Awards.

As Pandora revealed in January, Becks has been admitted to the "academy" that hands out gongs at the prestigious event, after his autobiography won a special prize last year.

This allows him to request free copies of any short-listed text. And organisers of the event - the publishing industry's Oscars - say he's taken full advantage of the privilege.

"He asked for the latest books by Banville, Ishiguro and Bennett, who are all up for Author of the Year," I'm told. "We were also told to get a copy Jung Chang's biography of Chairman Mao, shortlisted in the History section."

Not every freebie tickled his fancy, though. "We suggested he might want The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which is up for Film Book of the Year, but were told that David had already read it."

Sadly, Pandora cannot discover which books Beckham enjoyed best: even after next week's event, the ballot will remain top secret.

A Spikey challenge to Jim Bowen

I hope we aren't about to witness fisticuffs between two elder statesmen of British Comedy: Dave Spikey and Jim Bowen.

Yesterday, Challenge TV announced plans to resurrect the 1980's quiz show Bullseye, with Spikey as host.

That's something of a snub to Bowen, left, who performed that duty with panache for more than 15 years. He, too, was hoping for the job.

"I don't know why they didn't ask me, but it's not for me to reason why," he said when I called yesterday. "Even though I was in Phoenix Nights with Spikey, I've never actually seen him perform so I don't know if he'll be any good."

Spikey says he's "honoured" to be stepping into Bowen's shoes, but he'll have to be careful not to pinch any of the big man's trademark catchphrases..

"I'll be interested to see if Spikey uses mine or whether he'll want to bring in some of his own," adds Bowen.

"Phrases like 'super smashing great', or 'let's see what you could have won' weren't scripted: they were made up on a whim."

* Michael Winner's on-off girlfriend, Paola Lombard, put their relationship "on hold" last year, after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Sadly, it may be some time before she's persuaded to squeeze her dainty frame back underneath the silk sheets at Winner's Holland Park mansion.

In a delightfully revealing interview with this week's Now magazine, Lombard is asked if anything might be missing from her life.

"The only thing I do like is a hug," she replies.

"As for a sex life, I couldn't begin to think about it. Even if Brad Pitt and George Clooney were right there on their knees begging me to make love to them, at the moment I'd have to give it a no."

Against that calibre of opposition, what chance could Michael Winner possibly have?

* Now he's quit "blue-sky thinking" for a career in the city, John Birt can afford to sort out his property portfolio.

Tony Blair's former wonk- in-chief has bought a trendy apartment in Clerkenwell. Neighbours describe it as a "love nest," and have spotted Birt at the local Tesco with girlfriend Eithne Wallis.

The Dalek, as Birt was fomerly known, used to inhabit a grander, three-story address in Bayswater. But that was before being required to finance a divorce from wife, Jane, who was traded-in for Wallis in 2005.

* Page 29 of yesterday's Guardian took a pop at Oliver Kamm, "banker and part-time Times columnist." Page 30 carried a bombastic column by... Oliver Kamm. Wakey, wakey!

* The Jeffrey Archer show rocked up in New York yesterday, for the latest in its book-flogging world tour.

Last week, I noted that (as a former jailbird) Archer was forced to discuss his dodgy past with officials at the US Embassy in order to secure a visa.

It now emerges that he didn't do a very good job. For The New York Post reports that the old dog was only permitted to visit the Land of the Free for 24 hours.

"The man's allowed precisely one day in this country to hustle his new book False Impression, which he wrote while behind bars," it notes.

During the whistle-stop visit, Archer delivered short lecture to the Oxonian society, a club for graduates of Oxford University. He occasionally (quite wrongly) claims to have a degree from said institution.

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