Exit Marr, enter Martha as the 'Desert Island' favourite

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The Independent Online

* The race to replace Sue Lawley in the presenter's chair of Desert Island Discs is gearing up to be one of the most eagerly awaited media appointments in recent times.

Yesterday, competition for the post hotted up when the favourite, Andrew Marr, emphatically ruled himself out of the running. "I wouldn't apply for it or want it," he said. "I am devoted to Start the Week."

Which means that all eyes are now firmly fixed on the political editor of Newsnight, Martha Kearney, pictured, who at Tuesday night's Orange Prize for Fiction was more than happy to toss her hat into the ring.

Speaking for the first time about the job, she told Pandora: "Of course I'd like to do it - I think every broadcaster in the country would.

"There seem to be different favourites every week though, so I don't think I am the favourite."

She is now. The bookmakers Ladbrokes slashed her betting price yesterday, making Kearney the odds-on favourite at 2/1.

Although BBC insiders now reckon her to be a shoo-in for the role, you can understand if Kearney is feeling more cautious. Last year, she was widely tipped to be the BBC's next political editor, only for the job to go to Nick Robinson.

When I ask about any recent developments, the BBC claimed discussions on the appointment to Desert Island Discs were still ongoing.

"No decision has been made ye,t so we can't comment," says a spokesman.

* At last, Gordon Ramsay has found a kitchen sparring partner who might just be able to match the potty-mouthed chef verbal for verbal.

In the next series of the Channel 4 cooking programme The F-Word, Ramsay will be seen squaring up to the Today programme's growler-in-chief, John Humphrys.

The two were pitted against each other after Humphrys was booked onto the show to compete in a "curry cook-off", where he and Ramsay were required to cook for a panel of diners.

Although Humphrys is said to have given a decent account of himself in the kitchen - he's apparently an accomplished gastronome - the bickering between himself and Ramsay was endless.

"It was non-stop," I'm told. "Gordon started winding John up by asking him if he'd ever seen his co-presenter, Charlotte Greene, naked. John didn't think it was funny."

* Melissa George has come a long way since she first graced British screens in the once popular Australian soap opera Home and Away.

The dainty actress - who played the show's resident crumpet, Angel - has recently landed a plum part in Lipstick Jungle, a new American sitcom written by Sex and the City creator Candace Bushnell.

"We've only made the pilot so far, so I'm still keeping my fingers crossed it'll work out," she told Pandora at Glamour magazine's Woman of the Year Awards on Monday night. "It's going to be a different show from Sex and the City, but obviously I'm hoping for the same kind of success."

* Yesterday, I reported that Prince Charles's frosty relationship with politicians must be starting to thaw.

The Prince - who usually likes to communicate his thoughts to politicians through one of his dreaded black spider letters - was playing host to a number of Senior Tory MPs at a garden party at his home in Highgrove.

* Surprisingly, word reaches me that a number of Labour MPs also pitched up to the event.

"It was quite a shock," said one startled onlooker. "Normally the Labour lot turn their noses up at the Prince's invitations and there were a whole bunch of them happily traipsing round Highgrove."

When Mikhail Gorbachev visited the Prime Minister's country residence, Chequers, in 1984, Margaret Thatcher declared: "This is a man I can do business with."

I just hope he is made to feel similarly at home when he stays at Earl Spencer's country pile, Althorp, this weekend.

The former Russian president is due to attend a gala dinner being held in honour of his charity, The Raisa Gorbachev Foundation.

Among the evening's entertainment, which includes a performance by the American rap band The Black Eyed Peas, is a bizarre-sounding display by Russian horses, which organisers have dubbed "horse ballet".

"The horses will be dressed in corsage and doing a sequence of movements, I think," says a spokesman for the event.

"Although, to be honest, I've never seen one before so I'm not sure what to expect."

pandora@independent.co.uk

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