Mum's the word: Mark causing chaos at Thatcher's 80th party

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There is mounting concern over plans for the Queen to attend the lavish bash at the Mandarin Oriental hotel on Thursday, since Lady Thatcher's disgraced son Mark is to be among the guests.

The Queen and Prince Philip have RSVPd their embossed invitation to the big bash, and are scheduled to be greeted on the steps of the swanky hotel by the Iron Lady herself.

However, Royal aides have vetoed plans for Lady Thatcher's daughter Carol and son Mark to be at her side, since it would have raised the prospect of the Queen shaking hands with a convicted criminal.

Last year, Sir Mark, above with Lady T, pleaded guilty in South Africa to unwittingly helping finance an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea. He got a three million rand (£270,000) fine, and four-year suspended jail sentence.

"The Royals will not attend unless Mark is kept out of the way," said a palace source yesterday.

"Not only is Mark a convicted criminal, but South Africa is back in the Commonwealth, so it's unthinkable for their paths to cross. He can attend, but may not meet Her Majesty."

Intriguingly, Buckingham Palace won't even discuss the party. A spokesman says she has an official function at the Guildhall on Thursday, and that other engagements are "of a private nature".

* Kazuo Ishiguro's latest film has been hampered by the Chinese government's customary disregard for the principle of free speech.

It turns out that The White Countess, which stars Ralph Fiennes, was censored by the authorities in Shanghai, where much of it was filmed.

They were upset by the language that Ishiguro intended to use in his script, which is set in Chinese diplomatic circles during the 1930s.

It's a cruel blow, since the film will be the last ever made by Merchant Ivory, following the death of Ismail Merchant earlier this year.

"I didn't go to China with them, but there would be messages sent back saying that because of government censorship, I'd have to change lines, or words, throughout the script," Ishiguro tells me.

"It's slightly farcical, though: their censorship laws are nothing more than a list of banned words, rather than ideas. For example, I had to remove the word 'revolution' from everywhere in the script."

* Here's a piece of top-quality networking: at the Daily Mirror's "pride of Britain" awards on Monday, Cherie Blair was overheard deep in conversation with the daytime TV hostess, Trisha Goddard.

"I'm a huge fan of your show, and always used to watch it in the gym," enthused Ms Blair, above right. "Although I don't watch it as much any more, because I work out at home now, I used to love it. You have such interesting people on it, with such great dilemmas."

Apart from being flavour of the week in Downing Street, Goddard has also made a unique contribution to the English language.

According to Viz magazine, both her guests and viewers - who are often unemployed - can be affectionately described as "Trisha Trash".

* Last chance to ignite Monday's political showdown of the year, when David Blunkett interviews Piers Morgan at Cancer Research UK's "turn the tables" lunch at the Savoy in London.

The embattled minister has kindly agreed to ask Morgan one "killer question", supplied by a reader of this very column. All you've got to do is write it - hopefully to cause maximum embarrassment to either or both men.

That shouldn't be too hard, since the event marks Blunkett's first public outing since his latest blonde, Sally Anderson, employed Max Clifford to sell her story. Morgan intends to "carve him up like a kipper," but then his own love life has had its complications.

Can you knock the wind out of their sails? E-mail suggested questions to the above address by Friday lunchtime. The best wins a bottle of Dom Perignon 1998, and a chance for its author to make political history.

* The winner of the Booker Prize, John Banville, devoted much of his acceptance speech to thanking his agent, Anthony Sheldon, for "sticking with me for 30 years".

Kind words, indeed. But what did Sheldon make of the endorsement? "He'll have been choking on his coffee," says a friend. "A couple of months ago, Banville quietly sacked him, and jumped ship to his better-known rival, Ed Victor.

"In that light, Banville's speech was quite the most hypocritical piece of guff I've witnessed in years."

Yesterday, Victor said tactfully: "I'm not exactly a shrinking violet, but last night I was happy to stay out of the limelight. It was a book Anthony sold and he deserved the thanks, but it is very exciting to be working with John from now on."