Blair's lips sealed over dinner guests at Chequers

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The Independent Online

Wealthy donors aren't the only New Labour supporters Tony Blair is keen to shield from the inquisitive spotlights of press, politicians and public. He is similarly protective over who he invites to dinner.

Lord Falconer, the Constitutional Affairs Secretary (and Blair's former flatmate), may call the Freedom of Information Act "a giant step forward" in eroding official secrecy, but the PM again refuses to list the guests he has entertained at his Elizabethan country residence, Chequers.

The Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb is the proverbial thorn, hassling the Cabinet Office to release details of Tony's cronies since November 2005. Lamb made a similar request last year, eventually succesful - revealing that David Bowie, Sir Ben Kingsley, Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan were among those to have enjoyed the Blairs' hospitality.

This year, however, Downing Street pen pushers have denied Lamb his moment of glory, relying on a nifty legislative loophole which says that they don't have to reveal anything now - just so long as they plan to publish it "at some future date (whether determined or not)". How about in 10 years' time?

"The whole spirit of the freedom of information legislation is about openness, but the Government's attitude towards it is to scupper it as much as they can," says Lamb. "They established the principle of disclosure last year, but this time round I've suddenly been met by a brick wall."

Downing Street commented that it had decided to publish the information at "regular" intervals.

Nesbitt romps home on rival horse

Say what you like about James Nesbitt: he is a shrewd man when it comes to backing horses.

The Irish actor, a member of the highly successful Highclere Racing syndicate, pitched up in the Royal Box at Newbury on Saturday to watch a race featuring the syndicate's much-fancied horse Paceman.

In an act of dubious loyalty - or possibly just canny manoeuvring - Nesbitt decided to cover his bases by also backing Paceman's main rival, Lunces Lad - which subsequently romped home at odds of 7-1.

Cue much celebration from Nesbitt, who danced a merry jig around the box.

"It wasn't clear how much cash he actually trousered," I'm told. "But from the way he was carrying on there, I suspect the figure had at least three zeros on the end."

The Hamiltons' horror show

Genuine "ladyboys" from Bangkok ... whippings administered by two men wearing red spandex bondage gear ... a game of "pass-the-banana". What else could it be but an evening in with Neil and Christine Hamilton?

A stunned, occasionally weeping audience gaped as the couple's champagne-charged Saturday night chatshow at the Edinburgh Festival descended into hitherto uncharted vulgarity.

Christine rampaged, groping comedian Scott Capurro's crotch and throwing food at the audience.

The former Popworld presenter Simon Amstell, whose sell-out stand-up show has been extended, left after just 10 minutes. Ashen-faced audience members later avoided eye contact with one another in the bar.

On the sofa after the show, Neil poured me a glass of fizz, and I asked how he thought it had gone. "You'll have to talk to Christine," he said. "You know the way it works."

Going, gone

Thwack! Pandora's auctioneer hammer hits the desk, making nearby columnists leap a foot above their seats.

Offering £22.76, Neil Green from Milton Keynes led bidding for David Walliams's prismatic shirt, acquired from the Little Britain star's recent clothing donation to a charity shop. "It will impress the ladies and scare small children," he explained.

But Littler Britain impersonator Stuart Morrison eventually emerged victorious, parting with a generous £249.99. He said: "It is my size and we have been invited to the recording of the Christmas show, so I may wear it."

The proceeds go to Marie Curie's cancer care work; many thanks to all who bid. May the fashion police not knock on your doors.

Osama's unlikely poster girl

In a rare act of mercy towards Western society, Osama bin Laden has hammered another nail into the coffin of Whitney Houston's musical career. According to the elusive terrorist leader's former lover, the Sudanese poet Kola Boof, he once described the former coke-sniffing songstress as his ideal pin-up.

"He would say how beautiful she is," says Boof in her autobiography, Diary of a Lost Girl, reported in Harper's Bazaar. "What a nice smile she has, how truly Islamic she is but is just brainwashed by American culture and her husband, Bobby Brown - whom Osama talked about having killed, as if it were normal to have women's husbands killed." Earlier this year, newspapers printed pictures of Houston's bathroom, illustrating her addiction to crack cocaine. Hard to know which revelation is the more damaging.

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