Beleagured Blunkett prefers not to discuss the news

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The Independent Online

Since he was forced to resign as home secretary last year, Blunkett has barely been out of the news.

In just the last week, he's been hauled over the coals by articles censoring his conduct, ranging from the minor scandal of using House of Commons notepaper inappropriately, to his romantic indiscretions with a young blonde.

Now the unwanted attention is forcing Blunkett to cancel engagements. The Work and Pensions Secretary was due to deliver a public lecture at the London School of Economics this evening, but announced over the weekend that he would not be attending.

Blunkett was lined up to give the inaugural "Polis" lecture at 6.30pm today. The series, which is a new collaboration between the LSE and the University of the Arts London, is designed to "address the current state of the news media".

The title of his speech was supposed to be - some might say fittingly - "The News We Deserve".

But the LSE has announced that, "due to unforeseen circumstances, this lecture has been cancelled".

According to a spokesman for the university, the event has been scrapped at Blunkett's request.

"He was lined up for this first lecture, so there are no plans to reschedule at the moment," I am told.

* After a career lasting 40 years and spanning novels, plays and film scripts, the author Michael Frayn is preparing to lay down his pen.

Best known for the West End hit Copenhagen and the script of John Cleese's comedy, Clockwise, Frayn has just handed a weighty philosophical tome to his publisher, which has taken him three decades to write, and expects it to be his last book.

"I think I have retired," he tells me. "In this life, I have learned not to say never, but I don't have any plans to write anything new.

"This book has taken me 30 years. I've been at it continually, while doing other things at the same time.

"I have not yet thought of a title for it. It's certainly very different from anything I've written before: not fiction, not a play.

"It's philosophy of a sort and poses all sorts of questions about life.

"I am quite sure it will sell terribly badly and be received fairly badly, too - or ignored altogether. But I am pleased to have finished it."

* Naomi Campbell isn't the calmest of souls, and news reaches me that might upset her a little bit. The magazine Cosmopolitan has carried out a survey, asking male readers to select from a list of celebrities whom they'd like to marry and whom they'd like to "shag".

Campbell scores badly in both categories. She comes third bottom across the board, just 3 per cent above the curvy This Morning presenter Fern Britton who was snapped looking less than elegant in swimwear and plastered across red-top news pages during the summer. As Campbell earns her living as a clothes horse, it's a poor showing.

"She's portrayed in the press as being a bitch," says one who took part in the survey. "The fact that she's gorgeous just goes out the window. She'd eat me for breakfast."

* On the same day as Harold Pinter won the Nobel Prize for Literature, another ageing playwright, Sir John Mortimer, was launching his latest novel, Quite Honestly. And while the literary world queued up to heap praise on Pinter, it was refreshing to hear the octogenarian Sir John singing a slightly different tune.

"It is wonderful that Harold won the Nobel Prize for Literature," he began. "And all that money. It's loads of money - about £80,000, I think.

"He'll never have to write another word in his life. Although he'd already given up writing plays - he just writes poetry now, which is pretty bad anyway, so we won't be too upset if he retires from that."

I'd hate to incite any jealousy, but ought to point out that the award for the Nobel Prize is, in fact, some £735,000.

* Here's proof that too many cooks - or at least too clever a cook - can spoil the broth. As part of a canny promotion for a new celebrity cookery book called Soup Kitchen, the sandwich chain EAT has agreed to serve a recipe from each of the contributing chefs at its outlets.

Soups dreamed up by the likes of Gordon Ramsay and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall are being prepared for National Soup Week at the end of the month.

However, one of the biggest names of all - the three Michelin-starred Heston Blumenthal - has been dropped.

"His recipe required loads of rare seaweed which is practically impossible to obtain," I'm told. "So although Heston's possibly the best chef of the lot, we had to leave him out."

Pandora understands that concerns were also raised over whether the concoction would be to the everyday tastes of EAT's customers.