'Gagged' Prince in U-turn over historic meeting

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The Independent Online

Prince Charles doesn't normally miss an opportunity to climb aboard his favourite hobbyhorse: the "monstrous carbuncles" of modern architecture.

The other day, he did just that, though, cancelling - at pretty much the last minute - an appointment to give evidence to MPs investigating the future of Britain's architectural heritage.

Members of the Department for Culture Media and Sport's select committee were "stood up" by the heir to the throne, who had previously invited them to Clarence House as part of their long-running heritage inquiry.

The committee was contacted shortly before the scheduled interview - the first of its kind in parliamentary history - and told that Charles, above, no longer feels able to voice opinions in public, following the scandal over his so-called "black spider" letters.

"It's been totally hushed-up," says one of the MPs. "We were supposed to meet the Prince in March, but he's done a U-turn, so we're no longer able to benefit from his considerable expertise.

"Whatever you think about the black-spider issue, it's a real shame that Charles has been forced to gag himself like this."

John Whittingdale, chairman of the DCMS committee, tells me the Prince is no longer on the list of potential interviewees.

"The idea of him appearing before the committee would have been totally unprecedented, but also given the present circumstances it probably wouldn't have been appropriate for him at the time," he says.

Jodie revs up - for a tidy sum

How much does it cost to get Jodie Kidd out of bed for a couple of days? If you're the DVLA, the answer is a signifcant chunk of £700,000.

That's how much taxpayers' money has been spent on a Government campaign telling people they can renew their tax disc online.

Figures obtained by Pandora under the Freedom of Information Act show the DVLA's marketing budget for the new "service" was: £671,000. Some, but not all, of this money was spent persuading la Kidd to be the "face" of the shiny new scheme.

Sadly, they won't reveal exactly how much the supermodel, left, trousered for her efforts as that would be an "actionable breach of confidence".

Maybe it would. But secretive mumbo-jumbo cuts little ice with the Tory Transport spokesman, Chris Grayling.

"This isn't exactly transparent government," he says. "And as far as I can see, they have spent a lot of money on using a supermodel to front a PR campaign that nobody I know has even seen."

* The launch of Michael Flatley's new tour is putting Ireland's ageing dance supremo in the firing line.

Yesterday, critics ridiculed his expanding waistline, with the facetious sobriquet "lard of the dance".

Today, Flatley, right, has been caught telling porkies on his official internet site, which claims he holds the Guinness World Record for "tap- dancing speed".

"Michael exceeded his first record of 28 taps per second set in 1989, with a phenomenal 35 taps per second in 1998, at the age of 39," it reads.

Unfortunately, that simply isn't true. The official record-holder is actually one James Devine, who appears at this year's Edinburgh Festival.

"Flatley's been claiming this for years, and it's a lie," says Devine's spokesman, Fiona Duff. "James beat his record seven years ago, and can do 38 per second. We're pretty hacked off."

Over to Flatley's spokesman: "It was an oversight on our part; we apologise."

* Rejoice! In just one month's time, we'll be celebrating the start of British Sandwich Week.

With this in mind, the British Sandwich Association has persuaded several (rent-a-quote) national icons to discuss their favourite variety of sandwich.

Boris Johnson turns out to be a fan of cheese and pickle. He says: "I salute the utterly commendable contribution that sandwiches have made and continue to make to the British way of life."

The maverick Jeremy Vine prefers a combination of banana, condensed milk and parsley - "either flat leaf or crinkly parsley, it makes no difference".

Meanwhile, the champagne socialist Diane Abbott will only eat smoked salmon. Sadly, she has refused to explain why.

* There is news of another PR triumph for our superstar Health Secretary, Patricia "don't panic" Hewitt.

She's just sent a confidential letter to Labour MPs detailing a cunning plan to keep the current NHS crisis out of the headlines.

According to the document, leaked to Pandora yesterday, each MP must send a press release to their local newspaper. Hewitt has provided them with a draft version. It reads: "I am proud of the work that (insert name of NHS trust) does and pleased that they have managed to keep to their budget."

Alternatively, they should submit a bylined article. The draft of that reads: "Cameron is all talk and no action, all words and no substance, and can't be trusted to look after our hospitals in (insert your local area)."