Gravel-voiced general prepares to speak his mind

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The Independent Online

A year after standing down as Britain's most senior army officer, General Sir Mike Jackson is preparing to transfer his talents to the public speaking circuit.

I hear that the ex-army chief has been signed up by theatre impresario Clive Conway, whose clients include Alastair Campbell, William Hague and various telly celebs.

In December, Jackson will take his gravel-trap voice box, red beret and glass of whisky to Regent's Park College for his speaking debut. Conway hopes this will be the first of many bookings. "He will talk about his life and take questions from the audience," Conway tells me. "The hope is this will be the first of many talks if he enjoys it. It's often difficult to get them for the first one, but then they get an appetite for it and want to do more and more."

The famously weathered Jackson, whose autobiography Soldier is out in September, hasn't been afraid to air his views on Iraq since his retirement, recently claiming that setting a date for withdrawal would be "about the worst thing we could do". He has clashed spectacularly with his successor Sir Richard Dannatt, the former Nato commander Wesley Clark and ex-Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon.

The Ministry of Defence is stamping down on military figures airing their soiled laundry, but says it is "relaxed" about Jackson's new speaking career. "He's retired and he's a private individual," says a spokesman, "so he can talk about what he likes, so long as it does not come under the Official Secrets Act." Forewarned!

Blinged up to the nines, Mellon's fiancée reveals: 'It's love'

News to warm the cockles. For all the squillions owned by thicko Texas oil and banking "billionheir" Matthew Mellon II, his colourful fiancée Noelle Reno really loves him for who he is.

I know. It's beautiful. *Sniff* Let's just take a moment...

Anyway. "Some people may assume I am with Matthew because of his wealth," Noelle tells glossy celebrity lifestyle mag Hello! "But I'm not one of those girls." Adds Mellon: "She's really not into material things."

The message is only slightly vitiated (look it up, Matthew) by Ms Reno dressing up in the style of one of Louis XIV's crystal chandeliers, then posing next to the couple's blue Rolls Royce and inside her walk-in wardrobe.

Reno, on their engagement: "We were in a helicopter and as it was swooping over the Eiffel Tower he pulled out this beautiful 8.7 carat solitaire diamond ring..."

She has helped Matthew find them a house in Beverly Hills and is to launch a luxury clothing line: "We'll be in Harvey Nichols!"

Mellon was cleared in June of spying on his former wife Tamara, the founder of the Jimmy Choo shoe empire, because he was mentally "incapable" of hatching such a plot. Money, Matthew says, does not buy happiness: "It makes life far more complicated."

Andy 'must be more handy'

With David Cameron enduring another public relations blunder over the worthy cause of hospital ward closures, I hear unfavourable noises emanating from Conservative HQ over Dave's spin doctor Andy Coulson, the one-time editor of the News of the Screws.

"He's never here," grumbles one CCHQ staffer, who claims not to see Coulson at the Millbank base very often. "There is a communications problem between Cameron's people and us and that's why these cock-ups occur. Coulson should be sorting this out but his office is next to Cameron in the Commons so we hardly see him."

A prickly official spokesman at Tory HQ insists: "Andy Coulson works in both places." So has he got an office at Tory HQ? "He's got a desk here, but it's an open plan office."

Andy, drop by. Show them some (tough) love!

Romany Ron

Rolling Stone Mick Jagger has generously invited 20,000 concert-going fans to Ronnie Wood's house in Richmond, south-west London, tonight, for a party. (Ronnie seemed surprised.)

Pandora bumped into one of the guitarist's celebrity guests. Ronnie has gone for a "Gypsy Music and Dance" theme, apparently. This should suit coconut impersonator Keef Richards, but don't expect Sir Mick to turn up in fancy dress. Attending the 21st birthday of his son, James, last year, he eschewed the medieval motif.

Don't expect too many other guests to turn up in fancy dress, either – if they turn up at all. "Typical Ronnie," says one. "He's scheduled it on a bank holiday weekend when I'm away."

Gorgeous sees double

Should George Galloway need help on the campaign trail in east London, as he prepares to unseat Transport Minister Jim Fitzpatrick, help is at hand. A Scottish electrician, Theo Baker, who is a doppelganger for Gorgeous George, has written to the MP complaining about the trauma of being mistaken for him so often.

Mr Baker writes: "Although it has some advantages – I mean, Sian Lloyd smiled as we passed on the Regent Canal at the weekend, obviously taking me for your good self, I wouldn't be too happy about taking your bullet. After your 'I salute you Sir!' business, I stayed inside for a week until the dust settled.

"I don't entirely disagree with your politics but when people start meowing at me in the street, well, that's a bit much wouldn't you agree?" As an olive branch, Baker has offered Galloway his services as a body double, for a fee. Indeed, Mr Galloway's late acquaintance Saddam – another rotund man fond of the odd cheroot – had many doubles.

Galloway has strangely not replied to the overture.

Email: pandora@independent.co.uk

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