Held at bay, Michael tries to spin his way out of trouble

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* Finding himself at the sharp end of the now explosive hunting debate, Alun Michael is fighting back in the best of all New Labour traditions: by appointing a new spin doctor.

* Finding himself at the sharp end of the now explosive hunting debate, Alun Michael is fighting back in the best of all New Labour traditions: by appointing a new spin doctor.

In an effort to deflect some flak, I gather that the Rural Affairs minister, right - who was forced by protesters to cancel trips to the country on both Sunday and Monday - has hired one Marcia Nash to head up his press team.

Ms Nash arrived in Michael's office last week, having previously worked at the Ministry of Defence. According to Whitehall sources, she is regarded as an expert in crisis management.

"Marcia's what you might call a veteran, and recently worked for the UN's rapid reaction force in the Gulf," I'm told.

"The minister basically needs someone who can hold things together in a crisis, and she fits the bill. Amongst other things, she worked for Michael Heseltine in the 1980s, not long after the Westland affair."

Speaking to Pandora yesterday, Ms Nash confirmed her new appointment, but denied that she had been brought in especially to deal with fallout from the proposed hunting ban.

"I applied for it some time ago, and was allowed to set my own start date," she explains. "It's part of a rearrangement of the press office here. But I couldn't have picked a much more exciting week to start."

* SADIE FROST is about to become the latest darling of British fashion to open her own London store.

Following in the footsteps of Stella McCartney and Matthew Williamson, she is preparing to open a flagship boutique in the capital before taking her FrostFrench brand to the US.

"Breaking America is very scary, but it will inevitably happen at some point," Frost told me at her Moët-sponsored catwalk show on Sunday.

"But before that, we're going to open in London. That's the next stage."

"I can't tell you much about the shop yet - it's all a bit secret still, but the one thing that I can say is that it certainly won't be in Primrose Hill."

Wherever she's based, it's a bold move for Frost and her partner Jemima French: this column recently disclosed that their firm lost £35,000 in its past financial year, leaving it £114,000 in the red.

* LONDON FASHION week got off to a sticky start for Alek Wek, below, who was due to unveil her second collection of handbags. At the weekend, the Sudanese supermodel's prototypes went missing en route to Lainey Sheridan-Young's Chelsea showroom.

"It's a disaster," Sheridan-Young tells me. "They vanished during a flight from New York. Virgin say its like looking for a needle in a haystack, and blames baggage handlers, who are employed by someone else.

"We've been left a huge amount of blank space in the studio. I can't put a value on what we've lost. It's priceless, because you can never say what sales we might have made."

* JOHN PRESCOTT'S preferred make of motor vehicle is well documented, but Jaguar cars aren't the only expensive lifestyle products he has a taste for.

Last year, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister spent a whopping £21,310 on cable and satellite TV subscriptions. This did not include premium channels, but until last November it did allow them to access Sky Sports 1.

"These figures emerged during an exercise to establish where we could trim fat in government expenditure," says Tory frontbencher Caroline Spelman, who dug them up. "This looks like a good starting point."

* SIR IAN McKELLEN, who is to star in the new Magic Roundabout film, may be distressed to learn that he wasn't the original choice for the pivotal role of Zebedee.

That honour went to Richard O'Brien, who - I can now reveal - ended up resigning amid "creative differences" with the producers.

"At the start, I could have told them it wasn't going to work," he said at the first night of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. "I saw the part as a moustache on a spring; they saw it as some cuddly cartoon character."

"They begged me to stay, but eventually they agreed I wasn't right. I wouldn't say I'm bitter, though: I love the Roundabout and would rather it works well than that I got to be in it, so I wish Ian good luck."

pandora@independent.co.uk

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