London 'too risky' for Litvinenko launch party

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The Independent Online

If British spooks thought the fallout surrounding the poisoning of Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko was about to blow over any time soon, they'd be very much mistaken.

A new panic has surfaced over the proposed launch party for Litvinenko's recently released book Blowing Up Russia: The Secret Plot to bring KGB Terror.

The co-author of the tome, Yuri Felshtinsky, is currently refusing to travel to London to fulfil any publicity commitments for the book. Felshtinsky, who is based in the United States, has apparently been advised by the FBI not to travel since they believe he still wouldn't be safe in the capital.

"He won't come at the moment, we will try and convince him to come to launch the book soon," says a spokesman for the book's publisher, Gibson Square.

"It's very important he does come because a lot of people really want to hear him speak. There's still so much mystery surrounding who Litvinenko was and what it was that drove people to murder him."

American authorities have apparently advised Felshtinsky to sit tight because of the planned visit of Russian authorities who are hoping to pursue their own investigations into the murder.

"We expect that once they have left we'll be able to get Yuri to London," adds the spokesman. "Hopefully, that will be sooner rather than later."

How Dame Helen let it all hang out

After scooping another best actress nomination at this year's Oscars for The Queen, Helen Mirren has been explaining the difficulties of playing our enigmatic monarch.

"She's very known but she's also very unknown, seen a lot but never really looked at... I had to portray her personality as truthfully as I could," she told one reporter last week.

Whilst Mirren may well be as in the dark about Liz's goings on as the rest of us, she used to be on regular speaking terms with her sister Princess Margaret.

According to Ivan Waterman's 2003 biography of Mirren, she and Margaret were both regular visitors to Surendall Farm, a hippy commune in Wiltshire belonging to Margaret's former squeeze Roddy Llewellyn.

Apparently, guests at the hang-out were actively encouraged to "commune with nature". A former visitor describes it to Pandora as "reeking of dodgy tobacco and very 'wow-man' ".

Odds on for O'Toole

Peter O'Toole is currently ranked as the bookies' second favourite to walk off with an elusive best actor gong for his starring role in Venus at next month's Oscars ceremony.

But when I bumped into him at the film's premiere last week, he was more concerned about the odds for his beloved Ireland's national rugby side in this year's World Cup.

"They're ten to one you say? Well, I reckon that could well be worth the widow's mite," he told me excitedly. "They're very good at the moment - I think they've certainly got a excellent chance."

O'Toole was once a keen player himself. However his scrummaging days came to an end long ago after suffering one snapped nose too many whilst taking the field for the Royal Navy.

No-man lands

There's news of a promotion of sorts among Gordon's Brown's ultra-loyal band of boot boys.

I hear the Chancellor has just appointed his trusty lieutenant Ian Austin to be his new Parliamentary Private Secretary.

Austin, who was safely parachuted into the Labour stronghold of Dudley at the last election, was formerly Brown's spokesman at the Treasury, where I'm told he was affectionately known to lobby hacks as "the abominable no-man".

He acquired the moniker for his consistent habit of dismissing any negative stories about Brown.

Apparently, journalists would be customarily batted off with a chummy denial that began "Oh no, no, no mate."

Wild man Wood cleans up his act

In just a single solitary breath, Ronnie Wood's reputation as one of rock and roll's most notorious hedonists has been consigned to the dustbin.

During a recent interview, the Rolling Stone's wife Jo has confessed that her husband has recently taken to wearing organic boxer shorts.

She apparently buys them from a small shop in Toronto as they help keep Ron cool whist he's performing.

Goodness knows what Wood's bandmates think of his undergarments. But during the Stones' Bigger Band World Tour last year it was reported they had followed his lead in drinking organic beetroot juice once they came off stage.