Minister's son joins Army (and is posted to Hounslow)

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The Independent Online

* Last year, a report emerged that Tony Blair's old flatmate Charlie Falconer - now Lord Chancellor - had been dispatched before the Iraq war to put "huge pressure" on Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, to abandon his misgivings about the legal complexities of Britain joining the invasion. Goldsmith blessed the mission.

Interesting, then, to hear that the second-eldest of Falconer's offspring, who left St Paul's private school in July, has joined the Army. The top brass consider 18-year-old Rocco Falconer officer material and have placed him on a fast-track commission.

"Rocco is a second lieutenant at the Cavalry Barracks in Hounslow, with 30 squaddies under him," says my mole with binoculars at the barbed wire base fence.

"He is on a gap-year commission before uni. He passed out at Sandhurst a month ago after training for several weeks. His parents went to the ceremony."

The source adds: "Hounslow is hardly glamorous, considering some of his friends are skiing in France. But he won't be going to Iraq, which pleases his parents."

Rocco, a Labour supporter, is in the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment - to become the 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment next year. Its battle honours range from Abyssinia in the 1860s to Ypres and Burma.

Says an Army spokesman: "We take people on for a gap year so they can get a feel for life in the Forces and decide if they want to continue in it.

"The training isn't all marching - it's skill at arms, map reading and field craft. They are taught to lead men."

* When he needed to write, Roald Dahl retreated behind his greenhouse, to a dingy little wooden shed at the bottom of his garden.

Perhaps his granddaughter, the model Sophie Dahl should consider a similarly grotty abode of her own. Her forthcoming novel for Bloomsbury appears to have been delayed.

An interview with Dahl in June revealed that Playing With the Grown-Ups, about a teenage girl's coming of age among her eccentric relatives in London in the early 1990s, was supposed to enter bookshops in the spring.

But Dahl, who penned an "adult fairy tale" in 2003, now tells Arena magazine: "It's being published next October."

Bloomsbury says it is "very much a Christmas book that everyone will read and give to friends".

The model is reported to have been paid upwards of £100,000 for the endeavour. A marvellous figure.

* Dame Helen Mirren was presented with a lifetime achievement prize at the British Independent Film Awards on Wednesday. And the actress is tipped to be among the nominees at Hollywood's 79th Academy Awards in February for her performance in Stephen Frears's The Queen.

So has she started thinking about what dress to wear to the Oscars?

"No, no, stop it, don't say it. I'm not mentioning, or even thinking of O-words at the moment, thank you very much," she tells Pandora. "Except maybe orgasm." (At which point a young man nearby appeared to suffer a coronary.)

The ceremony was held at the ancient Hammersmith Palais theatre. Mirren commented: "I haven't been here since I came to see Marc Bolan in concert back in the 70s."

* Entries for next year's Mastermind competition are piling up in the in-tray of John Humphrys (who hosts the show during his time off from biting politicians' throats on the Today programme).

Interestingly, the Beeb is making efforts to attract more female participants, "many of whom are busy juggling so many other things in their life that they may not see some of our [usual] attempts to recruit new contestants".

Says a Mastermind spokes(wo)man: "In the early 70s there were several female winners, but since the show came back we haven't had any. It mostly tends to be men who apply, which is a shame."

Might any readers write in to suggest gender-specific specialist subjects?

* Hats off/contemptuous jeering for the first-time novelist Iain Hollingshead, who on Wednesday beat Irvine Welsh, Mark Haddon, David Mitchell and Will Self to win the 2006 Bad Sex in Fiction Award, for his "bulging trousers" passage in Twentysomething.

Up on stage to collect the gong from rock chick Courtney Love, Hollingshead - who rose to prominence with a student newspaper column "rap battle" involving Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat - became distracted, gazing at Love's cleavage. His attempts to woo her failed.

"I was slightly disappointed that Courtney wasn't part of the prize - perhaps a romantic meal for two after one of her gigs," he said. "Instead she gave me a kiss and a white alabaster foot." (The trophy represents the winged messenger Hermes.) "I've not washed the cheek that she kissed, and I carried the foot around all night. The taxi driver said I looked like a nob."