Knives out for McConnell and Wark over Hogmanay holiday

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* Kirsty Wark is the subject of an increasingly hostile whispering campaign in her native Scotland over her cosy relationship with the country's First Minister, Jack McConnell.

* Kirsty Wark is the subject of an increasingly hostile whispering campaign in her native Scotland over her cosy relationship with the country's First Minister, Jack McConnell.

Last week, the Newsnight presenter and her husband, Alan Clements, welcomed McConnell and his wife to their holiday villa in Majorca for a New Year holiday.

The trip has led to a furious row north of the border, with both parties facing accusations that it compromises their professional integrity.

Wark's critics say her friendship with the First Minister appears to breach the BBC's strict guidelines over the impartiality of its news correspondents.

Meanwhile, McConnell's political opponents are upset that the jaunt caused him to miss Hogmanay, when he was expected to lead public celebrations in Edinburgh.

Several paparazzi were despatched to Spain, with hilarious consequences. "McConnell spent his entire time dodging snappers," I'm told. "At one point, when they went for a walk on New Year's day, he actually dived behind Wark to avoid them."

Elsewhere, Wark's production company recently won a lucrative BBC contract to make a documentary about the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh, which was completed late and massively over budget. It was an odd call, since Wark was on the judging panel that selected the architect for the botched project.

* LUCIAN FREUD is about to cast a (no doubt) reluctant eye over Sketching Lucian , a play dealing with his tempestuous private life.

The famously reclusive portrait painter who has never discussed such matters, has been sent a script of the show, which opens in London next month.

Should it meet with Freud's approval, director Mike Miller hopes to stage a one-off private performance for him on 13 February, the week his portrait of Kate Moss is to be auctioned.

"I'm aware that Freud can be touchy, and parts of the play aren't entirely complimentary, but he's said that he's curious about it, so the script is in the post," explains Miller. "It'll be interesting to see his response.

"We've invited John Hurt to play the older Lucian for the night. He'd be ideal for the role and I hope he'll be flattered."

* HOLLY HUNTER remains in a West End production of By the Bog of Cats , despite reviews criticising her "iffy" Irish accent. But - like Kevin Spacey before her - she's been irked by the behaviour of London audiences.

"It's disrespectful when phones go off, like happened tonight," she told me, after a recent performance. "There's no place for that in the theatre; I'm on stage giving a performance and I don't want to put up with it."

Sensing a diplomatic incident, the Oscar-winning actress added: "Having said that, I do think that English audiences are quick-witted, intelligent and well educated."

* TONY BLAIR admits inviting many starry guests to Chequers, but what of the journalists he's been breaking bread with? Last May, Pandora reported that three Guardian hacks - Michael White, Polly Toynbee and Martin Kettle - were summoned to the PM's country seat, amid rumours they were about to call for his resignation.

Their names were absent from the list of guests Blair was forced to publish at the weekend. But Downing Street denies a cover-up, claiming they were only required to mention people who stayed for dinner. The Sunday Telegraph editor, Dominic Lawson, was the most prominent journalist to dine chez Blair, an honour that befits his lofty status.

* Yesterday, Pandora revealed that Martin Freeman - Tim from The Office - was once in the British junior squash team. Today, I learn of another comedian who is "handy" with a racquet.

A few years back, Jack Dee took up real tennis, at the Harbour Club in Chelsea. Sadly, his love affair with the ancient sport was short-lived.

"Because I was a beginner, I'd end up playing against old ladies, who'd keep on saying how much they admire me," he says. "I spend the whole time talking about what I do, and in my spare time I want to escape that. So I gave it up."

I gather that Mr Dee now relaxes by playing lawn tennis, though he prefers taking lessons from a professional to the lottery of a competitive fixture.

pandora@independent.co.uk

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