Charles's friend 'sidelined' over Queen Mother's biography

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The Independent Online

* Two of the biggest beasts in Britain's literary establishment have been forced into an unseemly stand-off over their rival biographies of that most delicate of subjects, the Queen Mother.

It was announced last year that the Royal Family had authorised William Shawcross, right - a friend of Prince Charles - to pen an official biography. But yesterday saw the publication of another volume on the same subject, by the writer Hugo Vickers, leaving the official biographer somewhat out in the cold.

"Vickers's book is well over 600 pages long and extremely authoritative," says a source. "It's hugely well researched and includes lots of collaboration from the Royal household and the Bowes-Lyon family, which Shawcross, rightly or wrongly, thought would be reserved for him as the official biographer.

"It's impossible not to ask whether his book can offer anything Vickers's one doesn't already contain."

The rivalry is made more intense still because Penguin, which is publishing the official book, has previously put out a large number of biographies by Vickers on subjects ranging from Cecil Beaton to the Duke of Windsor.

A spokesman for Vickers's publisher, Hutchinson, said: "Everyone expected that Hugo would be asked to write the official biography, so he wrote this one with all his sources and contacts instead.

"As for what William Shawcross intends to write now, you'll have to ask him."

Unfortunately, Shawcross was not returning calls yesterday.

* Having spent his career getting his somewhat desperate clients on to the front pages of red- top tabloids, the PR bruiser Max Clifford is launching a bid for the limelight himself.

Following the publication of his autobiography, which disappointed many critics with its lack of revelations, Clifford is now trying to turn it into a TV series.

"I'm meeting up with a TV company who are very keen to develop the idea," he tells me.

"It would be a comedy drama - as my life has been both.

"The only problem is that if I don't have total control, I'm not interested."

To prove the point, Clifford spurns the idea of being played by any of the usual suspects.

"Maybe I'll play myself if I have the time," he adds, modestly. "I'd definitely be better than anyone else."

In the meantime, his attentions will be focused on the Australian cricketer Shane Warne, who this week signed a contract with Clifford, following a summer of allegations of marital infidelity.

* Is anyone capable of being nice about Cherie Blair for more than 10 seconds? Helen McCrory who plays the PM's wife in the upcoming film, The Queen, attempted a staunch defence of Mrs Blair, below, against her critics.

"I've got no time for people who slag off Cherie," she told me at a poetry reading hosted by Josephine Hart.

"The media treat her disgracefully because she's a successful woman. I've met her in person, when she came to see a play of mine. She was charming, quick to laugh, and very petite and attractive."

So far, so good. But "attractive" is a relative term, it seems.

"I don't see why people comment on her appearance. If she was a model - perhaps you wouldn't buy your Rimmel off her. But she is a successful barrister and mother. It's not her job to be beautiful." Now, now.

* David Cameron's right to a private life is fast becoming less assured. And so it is disturbing news for senior Tories that the dark forces of Labour spin claim to have quite a sizable dossier on his "unsuitable" antics still unreleased.

"There's more to come," says a source, gleefully. "We've been holding it back until its impact will be more destructive.

"I can't give details away, but it won't be so easily brushed off as 'bygones'."

Meanwhile, Conservative modernisers are rendered distraught by the photographs published last weekend of Cameron's campaign manager, George Osborne, in the same room as a dominatrix prostitute and class-A drugs.

"The real problem with that photo wasn't the hooker or the cocaine, but that George was wearing a tie," says one.

* Joan Rivers earned herself plenty of headlines with her outburst on Radio 4 against Darcus Howe. But it wasn't her only display of bad temper on Wednesday morning. For Rivers, who is hard at work promoting her upcoming tour, also let fly on Jamie Theakston's Heart FM radio chat-show.

Asked about the Hollywood star Brad Pitt's love life, she had this to say to his ex-wife: "Jennifer Aniston, just get on with it ... It's been a year-and-a-half and you're very beautiful. Stop boo-hooing. No man is that important."

She then turned her silver tongue to Pitt's new lover: "Angelina Jolie is a woman with an affliction. She was on a plane with me and she looked like a pelican; we sat there and threw fish."

Surely Joan can't be courting controversy?

pandora@independent.co.uk

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