Charity may begin at home - but it doesn't extend to Boris

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The Independent Online

If Michael Howard hopes to take up charity work when he retires as Tory leader later this year, he will have some bridges to mend.

If Michael Howard hopes to take up charity work when he retires as Tory leader later this year, he will have some bridges to mend.

Howard and his wife Sandra have upset the organisers of an auction, to be held later this week, by withdrawing a lot that they had offered in support of two children's charities.

Back in January, representatives of the Shine and Norwood charities believed that they had secured the agreement of the Conservative leader to host a dinner for the highest bidder at the "Put Yourself in my Shoes" auction, which is taking place this Thursday. But when they attempted to finalise details, Howard withdrew.

"We started planning lots for the auction before the election, and Michael and Sandra Howard donated a dinner with themselves and Boris Johnson, which we hoped would raise about £10,000," says one miffed organiser. "Now Michael has withdrawn the offer, saying that as he and Boris are no longer talking, the prize is no longer appropriate.

"What worries us particularly, though, is that he and Sandra don't feel able to host the dinner party on their own."

When Pandora contacted Howard's spokesman for an explanation, he assured me that his boss isn't fighting any sort of cold war with Boris Johnson.

"As I understand it, there was no firm commitment," he said. "If there's anything else Michael can do, I'm sure he'll try to help."

¿ The actress Patricia Hodge has launched a stinging attack on the Government's arts policy.

Hodge who made her name in Rumpole of the Bailey, tells Pandora that she believes the funding provisions for young actors are in desperate need of an overhaul.

"Politicians go on about this country's talent - but who do they think is nurturing it?" she said, at a party held by the Genesis Foundation.

"They talk about prioritising arts funding, but it's still on the periphery; and about education, but I've heard of young actors being accepted to Rada and then getting turned down for funding by their Local Education Authority. What does a bunch of people on the council know about a person's acting potential?

"It is an important topic for me. When I applied to drama school, I came from Lincolnshire - a cultural desert. The interviewer asked me if there was a history of performing in my family and I said yes: my mother and her sister used to entertain the troops."

¿ Many players who take to the West End stage find cause to brand their audiences - as Kevin Spacey did - "noisy" and "disruptive". It's refreshing, then, to hear that the bother caused to playwright and performer Kwame Kwei Amah is of an altogether more worthwhile variety.

Armah who is currently starring in his own play, Elmina's Kitchen, at the Garrick, tells me:

"When I come out of the stage door, there are inevitable 20 to 40 people waiting outside. They all want to discuss the issues raised in the play. Night after night, it takes me 40 minutes to get from the door to the Tube station because of them all."

If only he rode a motobike like Ewan McGregor.

¿ Proof - almost - that the Reverend Dr Ian Paisley has a sense of humour after all.

On Friday, Pandora reported that the Papal Nuncio to Great Britain, Archbishop Faustino Munoz, had mistaken a question about the vacant Roman Catholic diocese of Paisley for a reference to the Democratic Unionist politician, and said:

"The very important and charismatic politician in Northern Ireland. I never knew he had a diocese as well."

Now, with just a little bit of prompting from his wife, the DUP leader chuckles back: "The world's my diocese."

But then he spoils it slightly, by adding: "So long as there are no compromising conditions imposed upon me."

¿ As other media organisations shed staff, The Sun has pulled off something of a coup. The newspaper, which earlier this year printed pictures of Prince Harry dressed as a Nazi, has just attracted a new cub reporter by the name of Alexander Ritchie.

Young Alexander, who is to take a summer work experience placement at The Sun, comes from good stock: his father, General Ritchie, is top dog at Sandhurst, where Prince Harry is currently learning how to conduct himself as an officer and a gentleman.

"There's absolutely no suggestion that anyone will be expecting Alexander to spill the beans on what goes on at Sandhurst," says my red-top mole - and I should certainly hope not.

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