Blair is told to watch it over Silvio's freebies

Click to follow
The Independent Online

When Silvio Berlusconi comes bearing gifts, Italian prosecutors aren't the only ones who prick up their ears.

Tony and Cherie Blair are facing awkward questions from the Conservative benches after refusing to disclose details of several luxury gifts given to them by Italy's colourful Prime Minister.

Before Christmas, Tory MP David Davies wrote to Number 10, following reports that Berlusconi had given Blair 18 watches, four necklaces, two bracelets, two sets of rings, a clock and a sports bag.

Under official guidelines, the PM is only allowed to keep such items if he exercises a "right to buy" at a price determined by the Cabinet Office. In 2004, he "bought" two of the watches for £175 each.

As Pandora revealed, Davies wrote to Blair asking what brand of watch he'd acquired for this (relatively) paltry sum.

Davies smelled fish, because Berlusconi's gifts normally cost somewhat more: in 2003 he gave George Bush a Franck Muller watch worth £7,000.

However, I now learn that Blair has refused to identify the watches. A formal response signed by Downing Street flunkey Daniel Thornton claims: "As has already been made clear, this is a private matter."

Davies disagrees. "Given Berlusconi's fabled generosity to others close to the Blairs, it's unlikely they were cheap Chinese imports," he says.

"So you'd have thought the Blairs would be keen for a bit of openness on this one."

* It's been a while, but the next great rock and roll dispute is about to kick off. And in the red corner: no less a pugilist than Jack White.

He's just used the internet site of his band, The White Stripes, to launch a blistering attack on a former chum and mentor: Billy Childish.

Among other things, White, left, accuses Childish - a musician, artist and poet - of plagiarising his most recent album.

"As for Billy Childish, I feel really sorry for you," he writes. "It must be lonely sitting in all that garage rock bitterness, Billy. You know, children, when you take someone else's music and put your own lyrics on top of it, it's still called plagiarism."

Childish, who denies the charge, recently gave an interview to American GQ saying: "I can't listen to [Jack's ] stuff."

That appears to have provoked the attack. "Rock and roll is like warfare and seems to bring out the worst in people," Childish said yesterday. "Jack is just being a bit sensitive."

* In the cut-throat world of perma-feuding superchefs, Aldo Zilli is like a breath of fresh air.

The Italian restaurateur, whose wife, Nikki, gave birth at the weekend, has named his baby boy Rocco, in homage to Rocco Forte.

It's a particularly touching gesture, since according to Zilli's spokesman, the two men aren't even close friends.

"They actually hardly know each other," I'm told. "Aldo just happens to be a huge fan of the Forte family, and thought it'd be a nice tribute."

One of the few things that mild-mannered Zilli does share with Sir Rocco's clan is Italian roots.

"The name Rocco was inspired by Sir Rocco Forte, whose father Charles is my hero," he says. "Charles, like me, came to London as a young man with just one bag on his back."

Touching struff. And if Sir Rocco, 61, can manage another child, I'm sure he'll return the favour.

* Before Tessa Jowell hit the skids, she was tipped, albeit shakily, as Gordon Brown's first Deputy Prime Minister.

Recent events put paid to that, though. So a host of rivals are currently limbering up for the job.

"Bookies' favourites will be Alan Johnson and Peter Hain, who are accomplished Brown-nosers," says my man in the Press Gallery.

"But smart money's on Harriet Harman. As both a woman and a Southerner, she can smooth Gordon's dour image."

Alternatively, John Prescott could yet choose to remain in the job. With this in mind, Harman, Hain and Johnson are now praying for Prezza to shuffle off into the Lords, like a good boy.

* Keira Knightley simpered prettily at Sunday's Oscars in a priceless, headline-grabbing Bulgari necklace.

It was a surprising fashion statement, though. For Knightly is actually paid £1m to be the "face" of Bulgari's chief rival, Asprey.

Fashion gossips say the royal jeweller is "absolutely bloody furious" at the apparent snub.

"Sunday, papers carried reports of a looming financial crisis at Asprey, so it's their second PR disaster this week," I'm told.

Last night, Asprey's spokesman refused to comment on the affair. But Knightley is now unlikely to feature in their future ad campaigns.

Meanwhile Bulgari's PR department were busy making hay.

"Keira's necklace has no price," they announced. "You cannot buy it. If you had $10m you would be told it was not for sale."

Comments