Martin Bell finds a new use for that old white suit

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The Independent Online

Martin Bell is once more preparing to dust down that famous white suit, at the grand old age of 67.

The former BBC war correspondent, who turned sleaze-busting MP in 1997, is performing a second great career volte face. He is coming out of retirement to earn a crust as a holiday tour guide.

Cox & Kings, Britain's oldest travel agents, has hired Bell to conduct package trips to the former war zones of Eastern Europe.

For £2,000, he will take interested holidaymakers around Bosnia and Croatia, scene of some of the greatest atrocities of the 1990s.

"It'll be a lot of fun," he tells me. "Bosnia doesn't have a functioning economy, so if I can help their tourist industry in any way, that would be great."

Bell's new employers tell me that the trips - which were launched on Thursday - are already selling like hot cakes.

"It's the first time he's done anything like this," says their spokesman. "We talked about the places he was associated with. Some, like the Congo, were a bit tricky for us, but he's really interested in promoting Bosnia and Croatia."

Whether Bell will be suitably dressed for the occasion,remains to be seen. "It's not in his contract that he has to wear his white suit," I'm told. "But he was wearing it when we met; we're not sure if he owns anything else."

Damien's lawyers don't see the joke

Damien Hirst's lawyers offer a fascinating insight into the mindset of BritArt's founding father. They have written a five-page letter to the little-known artist Simon Phillips, who owns the spoof website www.damien-hirst.co.uk.

The stern missive, which has fallen into my hands, accuses Phillips of an "abusive" breach of Hirst's trademark rights. "Our client is one of the United Kingdom's most famous and high profile artists," it reads. "He has been involved in a wide range of commercial activities, including the sale and exhibition of artwork, directing films and music videos, releasing music singles as a member of a pop group, and setting up a restaurant."

Phillips believes the letter - from law firm Manches LLP - to be a case of sledgehammers and nuts. His reply begins: "Does Damien Hirst own the sole copyright for taking the piss?"

Just good friends ...

Cilla Black is threatening to succeed Sue Barker as official female " walker" to Sir Cliff Richard. A few days ago, the Scouse heroine - not previously thought to be a tennis fan - was photographed alongside Sir Cliff at the final of the Stella Artois.

Now, Cilla excitedly informs me, the couple have not one, but two more " dates" on the horizon. First, she will be whisked off to Wimbledon, for yet another day courtside. Then, she adds: "We're jetting off to Paris for a weekend, to relax."

It's sure to get the rumour-mill going. But, in time-honoured fashion, sources close to Cilla - who was speaking over drinks at the Gaucho Grill - insist they're "just good friends."

"There will be others going to Paris, so you can't call it a dirty weekend," I'm told.

Blog bother

Swotty David Miliband is upset by recent criticism of his internet diary. Chris Huhne, the Environment Secretary's Lib Dem shadow, used this column to claim the swanky blog was costing the taxpayer £40,000 a year to run.

Now Miliband has returned fire, issuing flustered statement on the website, saying the real figure is just over £8,000.

"Some wild claims have been made," it reads. "Here are the facts. The initial start up cost of the blog (when I was) at ODPM was £6,000. The changeover to Defra cost £1,250 and ongoing costs amount to £900 pa."

By the by, we're still waiting for Islingtonian Miliband - the man in charge of British farming - to confirm or deny rumours that he doesn't eat red meat.

The art of good manners

They might call Victoria Beckham "posh" but her command of modern manners is anything but. On Friday, Tracey Emin complained - in these pages - that la famille Beckham hadn't thanked her for giving a piece of art to their recent World Cup fundraiser.

"Every time I saw David Beckham (on television), I had to ask the question," she wrote. "Why hadn't he and his good wife thanked me for donating a piece of art to their charity auction?"

Yesterday, Pandora found out. A spokesman said no one had told the Beckhams where Emin's item (a neon which sold for £28,000) originally came from.

Now they have, I hope a thank-you letter will arrive forthwith.

pandora@independent.co.uk

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