Blair's secret hotel assignation with Chirac's deadly rival

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The Independent Online

Sadly, relations are now frostier than ever, after the PM decided to invite Chirac's arch-nemesis, French home affairs minister Nicolas Sarkozy, for a secret tête à tête in Westminster on Monday.

Although Downing Street initially denied that any meeting had taken place, it was later forced to issue a "clarification," saying that the two had been involved in "private discussions".

Now details have reached Pandora of both the contents of their conversation, and the extraordinary lengths that Downing Street went to in a bid to prevent the summit from becoming public.

Initially, I gather that Sarkozy (above left) was due to arrive at Downing Street at 11am, for talks in the PM's private office. However, he was later instructed to present himself at the Marriott Hotel next to Westminster Bridge at 8.30pm. Staff ushered him into a private suite, where Blair spent an hour, discussing what one French observer has described as the "British economic model."

This marks a severe breach of protocol on both men's part. Sarkozy is Minister for the Interior - the equivalent of Charles Clarke - so was upstaging Chirac by discussing economic affairs.

Blair, for his part, should never have held official talks with Sarkozy. In any case, economics are supposed to be Gordon Brown's baby. His spokesman will say only: "It was a private and informal meeting."

* Following in the recent footsteps of both Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White another superchef is getting ready to spill the borlotti.

Aldo Zilli, the Italian restaurateur whose colourful private life made headlines throughout the 1990s, has added his name to the list of culinary heroes writing their autobiography.

So long as his memory's up to it, the book ought to be a cracker. In years gone by, Zilli was a regular drinking partner of such hellraisers as Freddie Mercury, George Michael and Chris Evans.

Although he's now cleaned up his act - and recently lost three stone on the TV show Celebrity Fit Club - publishing sources say Zilli has promised that nothing will be off limits.

"Aldo decided to write his book after learning that Chris Evans was also doing one," I'm told.

"Evans recently decided to scrap his book, after it turned into a muckraking exercise, but Aldo ploughed on. George Michael, in particular, will want to read the results with great interest."

* UKIP MEP, Godfrey Bloom. You may remember him as the chap who made headlines last year, for saying - on joining the EU's Equal Opportunities Committee - that modern women "don't clean behind the fridge enough". Yesterday, he brandished a copy of Busty Beauties at a meeting of the same committee. He'd earlier purchased it from the parliament's own newsagent. "I don't think I've sat through an equal opportunities meeting, ever, without them spending an hour talking about the exploitation of women," Bloom tells me. "They drone on and on about it, and sneer because I'm a man. And then their own shop is selling this ... It's the hypocrisy I can't stand. This is another example of the double standards that pervade at the EU."

* England cricketer Darren Gough has been slated for boycotting the winter tour of Pakistan in order to shake a leg in the light entertainment show Strictly Come Dancing.

Cannily, the Yorkshire bowler - who will be handsomely rewarded for foxtrotting in front of Bruce Forsyth - is now attempting to claim that the project will actually improve his long-term contribution to the side.

"I'm working muscles that I haven't used before, and it's a great thing because I've had a bad leg, which has been really weak since some major operations. It's feeling much better since I've been doing the cha-cha-cha."

Notes one cricket writer: "As far as the England team are concerned, Goughy can stick his playing career up his ch-ch-chuff."

* Like many colleagues, the rock 'n' roll pioneer Chris Rea admits to a fondness for the occasional tipple. Sadly, the Teeside superstar - who was diagnosed with cancer a few years back - is no longer in possession of his pancreas. But he's taken the blow in his stride.

"I have to be pretty careful what I eat and drink these days," he tells me. "Guinness is fine, and I'm also allowed a bit of wine, thank goodness. But losing my pancreas was actually a good thing in one way: all it takes now is four pints of Guinness and I'm away with the fairies for an entire weekend."

Rea was showing Pandora an exhibition of his paintings at the Cork Street Gallery in Mayfair yesterday. Being lunchtime, he offered me nothing more intoxicating than a milky cup of tea.

pandora@independent.co.uk

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