More trouble brewing for Lib Dems benefactor

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The Independent Online

* The current stink surrounding parliamentary party loans doesn't just smell bad for Tony Blair's millionaire chums. There's more potential trouble brewing for the Liberal Democrats' controversial Scottish benefactor Michael Brown, who loaned the Liberal Democrats £2.5m before last year's general election.

Yesterday, questions were raised over the status of one of Brown's companies, called 5th Avenue Partners Limited.

At present, Companies House is proposing to strike 5th Avenue off the register of UK companies as it has so far failed to file its accounts from last year. Similarly, another company belonging to Brown, above, called 5th Avenue Partners (UK) Limited, also finds itself in trouble after failing to submit its annual return, which sets out all of its directors and shareholders.

"These two companies are in default but they are not going down the dissolution route at this stage," insists a spokesman for Companies House when I call. "At the moment, we are chasing them to file the necessary accounts. They have up to around six months for this to happen."

Brown, who is based in Spain, is facing fraud charges. When I contact the Liberal Democrats, a spokesman insists that any irregularity on Brown's part was absolutely nothing to do with them.

"Any legal action against Michael Brown or 5th Avenue has nothing to do with the Liberal Democrats," I'm told.

* Two months ago, Billie Piper surprised everyone when she announced, at the tender age of 23, it was time to write her autobiography.

After signing the reported six-figure deal with publishers Hodder & Stoughton, a source close to the Doctor Who actress was quoted as saying: "Billie wants to start work immediately. She's been offered a ghostwriter but she wants to have a crack at writing it herself."

But in between her busy filming schedule, Piper has clearly found things tougher than first thought.

In an apparent volte-face, she's decided to take her publishers up on their original offer and has enrolled the services of respected crime writer Gay Longworth.

"The book is due out in October, in time for the Christmas market. With the deadline ever-looming, Billie felt she was going to need a little help," I'm told.

* Kerching! Imogen Edward Jones's string of dirt-dishing novels are proving to be quite the money-spinner.

Two years ago, she wrote a tell-all exposé of the catering industry called Hotel Babylon, which was made into a successful BBC TV series. On Wednesday night, she launched another, Fashion Babylon, and has managed to flog the screen rights to that one as well.

"It's been bought by the same production company which made Hotel Babylon, and I hope it will begin development some time this year," Imogen told me. "I've had a few ideas with regards to casting, but obviously it's too early to say yet. I've only just finished struggling with the lawyers over the new book. They insisted we remove more than 20 pages for fear of legal recriminations."

* Despite being labelled Britain's top pop impresario, Jonathan Shalit displays none of the ego credited to many of his contemporaries in the talent-spotting business.

Shalit, who struck gold after discovering Charlotte Church, was recently approached by the BBC for a Louis Theroux-style documentary crew to follow him around to show the inner workings of his Soho empire. Surprisingly, Shalit politely turned them down.

"I get asked to do all sorts of documentaries the whole time," Shalit tells me.

"While I admit I thought it sounded like an interesting idea, I had to say no. A puppeteer should never reveal how he pulls his strings."

* During the Nineties, the Isle of Man became the subject of some unfair abuse when it was lampooned in the hit sketch series The Fast Show. The programme rather cruelly depicted the isle as a strange place filled with peculiar inhabitants. So Manx residents will be pleased to know that the Hollywood star Alicia Silverstone has gone some way to repairing the damage to their image by giving the island a ringing endorsement.

"Oh, I loved it. There was so much to do there," she said, after filming there for her latest film, Stormbreaker.

"It was just the most beautiful place. I was particularly impressed as they have a fantastic vegetarian restaurant where I ate all the time. I was quite surprised to see this really hip place there."

pandora@independent.co.uk

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