It's no use trying that animal magnetism on the PM

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Back in 1997, there was a minor scandal when the PM's wife was accused of killing Humphrey, the Downing Street cat. Such was the outcry that Alastair Campbell's powers of spin had to be deployed to organise a photo-call, right. But not long afterwards, when the fuss had died down, Humphrey was re-homed.

Now there is further evidence to suggest that Britain's first couple have a freaky aversion to household pets.

On Wednesday, Channel Four held a leaving party for its splendid political editor Elinor Goodman, and - by way of a tribute - presented her with a farewell video. The highlight was to be clips of the three party leaders posing with Goodman's beloved pointer, Ash. Charles Kennedy and Michael Howard kindly obliged, but when Ash was bought to Downing Street, the PM ran a mile.

Goodman isn't bitter, though: Blair wouldn't touch her pooch, but he did record a nice farewell message.

"Ash was filmed entering and leaving Downing Street," she tells me. "Tony Blair's contribution was greatly appreciated. He was leading the country through a terrorist attack and I don't mind that he didn't pose with my dog."

* An effort to launch David Furnish's Fleet Street career - in the worthy pages of the New Statesman - has hit the buffers.

Last month, the left-leaning magazine asked Elton John's future husband to write one of its weekly diary columns. A deal was on the verge of being stitched up, so that Furnish - pictured left with Sir Elt - could use the column to publicise Sir Elton's annual white-tie-and-tiara ball. But events sadly conspired to kill the project.

First, the New Statesman's editor, John Kampfner, turned the suggested edition, published on 30 June, into a G8 special. Then the London bombings happened, turning Furnish's thoughts on the celebrity circuit into something of an irrelevance.

Some reckon it's a blessing in disguise, though. "We originally thought Furnish would be dishing dirt," says my man at the mag. "But then it became clear that he was only prepared to discuss Elton's charity.

"To be honest, we can happily do without being a forum for that sort of backslapping."

* Michael Fish makes a cameo appearance in the new memoir of David Benedictus, a writer and director who was once his next-door neighbour. According to the book, which is called Dropping Names, they fell out during the 1980s, when Benedictus's dog, Magpie, decided to foul the front lawn of Fish's "nasty little house" in Twickenham.

A few years later, Benedictus wrote Sunny Intervals and Showers, a humourous guide to the weather which included a chapter on Fish's failure to predict the 1987 hurricane.

Fish wrote to complain: "Unfortunately, most of the information you have reproduced was a total fabrication on behalf of the tabloids. As usual, any facts would have spoilt their story."

Benedictus got the last laugh, though. In the book, he recalls that within a week, Fish was involved in a News of the World exposé.

"Those who live by the tabloids must die by the tabloids!" he chortled.

* For obvious reasons, Sir David Frost was forced to cancel his annual garden party last Thursday. Although his secretary spent the afternoon on the telephone, five guests still turned up (unawares) at his Chelsea home.

One was David Trimble, who expressed mild surprise that the bash wasn't going ahead. Apparently, in Northern Ireland people get swiftly back to "business as usual" following a terrorist bombing.

Frost was mildly amused. He hadn't realised that the former Ulster Unionist leader was such a determined canapé-chaser.

"In addition to that, it was ironic to see a man who no longer presides over a party, turning up at a party that was no longer," says a chum.

* At midnight, David Blunkett appears on ITV to discuss his third great passion, after politics and Kimberly: Harry Potter. True to form - he won't let it lie! - the interview throws light on his (occasionally) strained relationship with the fourth estate.

"If I had an invisibility cloak, firstly I'd don it every time a journalist got anywhere near me," he says. "But really I'd like to have it on in the offices of editors of national newspapers. The things I could pick up would be wonderful."

Later on in the programme, the former Home Secretary is asked how he'd thinks JK Rowling's ongoing literary saga ought to end.

"I'd like Hermione and Ron to actually get engaged and get it together properly," he replies, touchingly.

"I'd also like Harry to learn more about coping with women. And when he does, perhaps we can all learn from it." Bless!

pandora@independent.co.uk

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