Kapoor steps into Ofili's shoes at scandal-hit Tate Gallery

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The Independent Online

In the new year, Anish Kapoor, one of Britain's greatest living sculptors, will become one of three working artists on the Tate's 12-strong committee of trustees.

He fills a vacancy created when Ofili - whose Upper Room was controversially purchased by the Tate in March - came to the scheduled end of his reign there last month.

The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who is in charge of re-appointments, is believed to have chosen Kapoor from a shortlist of two given to him earlier in the year.

Both fellow trustees, and Kapoor himself, were informed of the decision on Thursday and a formal announcement is expected later this week.

Sir Nicholas Serota, the Tate's director, will hope Kapoor's arrival can draw a line under the Upper Room controversy, which erupted when it was claimed that Ofili's position as a trustee created a potential "conflict of interest" over the £700,000 purchase.

However, critics of the move described it as a case of Groundhog Day, since both Ofili and Kapoor are former Turner Prize winners whose careers have previously been championed by Sir Nicholas.

There is, however, one crucial difference: in 2004, Kapoor agreed to donate some work to the Tate, free of charge.

* As an actress of considerable standing, Dame Judi Dench would have every right to believe that performing with former soap stars is beneath her dignity.

It is to her great credit, therefore, that a long-awaited return to the West End will co-star the EastEnders stalwart Kim Medcalf.

"I'm going to be playing Judi Dench's daughter in the Noel Coward play Hay Fever," Medcalf tells me. "It'll also have Peter Bowles and Belinda Lang in it."

The play opens in April and will be directed by Sir Peter Hall. He's said to have been "very struck" by Medcalf when auditioning her at his London home.

"It's obviously daunting working with Peter, but that's nothing compared to sharing a stage with Judi Dench [left]," she adds. "I've not met her yet, but obviously hope to learn lots from her."

The casting is also of significance to EastEnders anoraks. Apparently, it scotches rumours that Medcalf's character, Sam - currently in Rio de Janeiro, for legal reasons - will shortly return to the show.

* It's been a good couple of years since Cherie Blair's father, Tony Booth, has been at the centre of any embarrassment So it's intriguing to learn that one of his oldest cronies, Warren Mitchell, is writing an autobiography.

Among other things, the book's expected to throw light on the pair's collaboration during the 1970s and 1980s, when Mitchell played Alf Garnett to Booth's "Scouse git".

Currently, just 30 pages have been completed, but Mitchell is already casting around for a decent editor.

"I've read Alec Guinness's and Alan Bennett's autobiographies and they're both so well written," he says. "I'm a great fan of the written word so it makes me ashamed when I put my sentences together."

* What will become of Martin Smith, the chairman of English National Opera, who resigned last week on account of the "persistent hostility" of Her Majesty's press?

A wealthy financier, Smith is unlikely to return to the shark-infested waters of opera management. However, chums insist he's determined to gain revenge on the critics who recently wrote an "open letter" calling for his sacking.

"Martin's a keen amateur conductor," says one "In fact, the garden of his Cotswold home contains a life-size bronze of him in action. He'd dearly love to perform with one of the world's great orchestras, just to say 'up yours' to the critics."

These days, someone with a thick skin, deep pockets, and a few-well placed connections can do just that.

Six months ago, Lorin Maazel paid £400k for the Royal Opera House to stage his debut opera, 1984. Could Martin now get his baton out in a similar vanity production?

* John Reid has been making noble efforts to keep himself on the news pages this holiday season. First, on Christmas Day, the Defence Secretary broadcast a medley of favourite pop songs to British troops serving overseas.

Then, on Boxing Day, his office circulated a press release headlined: "MoD goes batty". It highlights Reid's role in - wait for it! - preserving rare bats on a military firing range in Dorset.

"Lulworth's bats are just one of the many success stories that reflect how the MoD goes that extra mile," goes Reid's quote.

Colleagues aren't sure. "Actually, I'd say Lulworth's bats reflect how Reid's spin doctor goes that extra mile," says one. "Any more publicity seeking, and it'll look like the old goat's eyeing up an even bigger job."

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