Islanders are not amused by plans for Victoria's hideaway

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The Independent Online

Queen Victoria's favourite home was officially gifted to the nation in 1902, and the running of it was handed over to English Heritage in 1984. Now its chairman, Sir Neil Cossons, pictured, and his trustees are formulating secret plans to turn it into a hotel and conference centre.

Apart from its well-earned place in the history books as the death-place of our longest-serving monarch, the house and its gardens are today open to the public, receiving 200,000 punters a year. Historically minded neighbours are distraught at the concept of its redevelopment.

"It's not just the idea of desecrating a landmark building," says one. "A hotel will surely lead to a leisure centre. What would Queen Victoria have made of it?"

There are already discussions under way to establish a campaign to block the work. "It's imperative that someone makes them see sense," adds my source.

The plans are being kept under wraps but, contacted by Pandora yesterday, English Heritage released a statement:

"We are in the early stages of exploring the possible development of the parts of the house previously used as a convalescent home into a small hotel," it reads. "This follows the assessment of a number of development options ... We are in the process of consulting with local partners, but much work is needed before these plans are developed."

* Not long ago, Sophie Ellis Bextor appeared on billboards, holding a skinned fox in a graphic advertisement for the anti-fur campaign organised by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Surprising, therefore, to bump into the singer quaffing Moët champagne at the opening of the new Versace boutique in Knightsbridge. The designer is one of the high-profile firms targeted by Peta for selling fur clothes.

Ellis Bextor sees no hypocrisy here. "I did that campaign to raise awareness, so people think about what they're buying before they do," she tells me. "I don't have a complicated view about it. I don't wear fur, but I don't mind other people wearing it, or standing here in a shop that sells it at all."

The Peta advertisement showed Ellis Bextor in a photo by Paul McCartney's daughter, Mary. Her family has been more dogged in their support of the Peta campaign: just last week, Heather McCartney was announcing plans to hound another singer, Jennifer Lopez, for wearing fur.

* The things music stars demand. While most rockers refuse to appear on stage unless they know that champagne on ice - or at least a nice bottle of scotch - will be waiting for them in their dressing rooms, Jools Holland requires a fridge full of Old Speckled Hen.

The dashing jazzman has requested that the traditional ale should be available when he appears at the Ko Samui Music Festival in Thailand this weekend, causing something of a headache for organisers.

"You can't get the beer out there," says one. "We'll obviously do our best to find some for him, but it's a bit much if we have to ship the stuff over from Blighty."

I hope they manage it. Without the brew, Holland is legally entitled to back out of his contract.

* Some MPs do enjoy a spot of irony. Barry Shearman - the left-winger who chairs the Education Select Committee in the Commons - has just heard that his son, a 25-year-old budding actor, is to appear in a new play about the state of education in the country today.

"It's called Amy Evans's Strike, and is about a schoolgirl who downs her crayons in protest at the goings-on at her school," he tells me. "My son John has landed the part of a Tory MP."

Ever the proud father, Mr Shearman plans to arrange a trip to the Courtyard Theatre in Covent Garden and has invited the Education Secretary, Ruth Kelly, to join him.

"It's a thought-provoking play," he adds. "I am sure Ruth would enjoy it."

* You could call it a suspicious mind - but William G Stewart believes he's the target of a money-making scam from America.

The Fifteen to One game-show host called Pandora yesterday to complain that he's received a letter of congratulation from the (unknown) American Biographical Institute. They're offering him a "Man of the Year award".

"Very few people could claim to be our Man of the Year," reads their missive. "We commend you ... in recognition of your contribution to society and culture."

It then asks for $395 for his medal.

"If I could be 100 per cent sure I'd get a nice gold medal, I might feel differently. But I'm not paying $395 for a medal which is probably brass," he tells me. "They've sent me the same letter for the last three years: I've got better things to spend the money on."