Mysterious white knight in the strange world of Kevin Maxwell

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The Independent Online

Last month, the son of the disgraced tycoon Robert Maxwell secured a last-minute stay of execution on eviction from his £3m Oxfordshire home, after telling a judge that he'd sold the property to an unnamed "white knight".

According to Maxwell's written evidence, a Cayman Islands firm called Roundabout Holdings had agreed to buy Moulsford Manor, near Henley. This was enough to convince Judge Charles Harris QC to grant him more time to pay off a £2,900,000 debt to his mortgage firm.

Strangely, a month later, Pandora has discovered that someone entirely different is to purchase the rambling Elizabethan property.

An Isle of Wight based businessman, Kerry Hamer - who owns the title Baron of Alford - is moving there, and claims to have nothing to do with the mysterious Roundabout Holdings.

"We're nothing to do with this firm," he tells me. "I'm just a private buyer and have been dealing purely and simply with the agents, Lane Fox. We are now completing and I am moving there with my partner."

In court on 3 August, Maxwell said was selling the house to "an acquaintance."

Says Hamer: "We did meet the vendors when we were looking round the house, and they were perfectly nice. But apart from that one occasion, I've no idea who Kevin Maxwell is."

* Zadie Smith has been forced to issue a carefully worded clarification after telling a New York magazine that England is a "disgusting place".

In a statement from her publishers, Penguin Books, the sweetly shy author says that her comments have been "twisted and quoted out of context".

"I have lived in England my entire life and have an enormous love of the place, a fact that is obvious to anyone who has read my fiction," she explains.

"During a phone conversation with a New York journalist, we both bemoaned the rise of bad reality TV shows and the obsession with wealth and celebrity that has gripped parts of our culture.

"I expressed a sadness about these things, and at the current atmosphere of fear and loathing on the Tube which has been the inevitable result of the terrorist attacks.

"Within the context of the conversation, these opinions did not seem controversial." Sadly, on the news pages, they did.

* Dougray Scott may live to regret agreeing to play Moses in a new TV drama entitled The Ten Commandments.

The smoothie actor contracted a severe bout of food poisoning and heat-stroke while filming the programme in Morocco last month.

"It struck in the first week and I was in bed for three days," he tells me. "It was 54 degrees while we were filming, so that made things pretty intense."

Those of a religious persuasion might speculate that its a case of divine intervention, since - despite the role he plays - Scott, right, has provocative views on matters theological.

"I was brought up a Protestant but it's such a fucking boring religion," he adds. "I mean, how can they have got it so wrong for 2000 years?"

* Piers Morgan wouldn't be Piers Morgan if he turned down an opportunity for some pre-match mind games with David Blunkett, who will interview him at Cancer Research UK's "turn the tables" lunch next month.

"All I can say is that there's going to be some fireworks," he said when I bumped into the London nightclub Movida last week. "Blunkett is going to come at me, and I'm going to carve him up like a kipper."

It's shaping to be a splendid little battle, and I'm delighted to say that Pandora readers will be able to join in: Mr Blunkett has agreed to ask Morgan a question submitted by one of you during his big interview.

Suggestions should be e-mailed to; the author of the best entry will win a bottle of Dom Perignon, 1998.

* What does Jeremy Paxman make of the BBC's decision to reprimand John Humphrys for making unflattering comments about the Government in a public speech?

"I don't know: it all seems a bit of a non-event really doesn't it?" he said, when I asked last week. "I haven't read the transcripts, though, and to be honest I don't know enough about it to comment. So I won't. I'm fed up of listening to people talking out of the arses about things they know nothing about."

Fair enough. So what does Newsnight's grand inquisitor - speaking at Sebastian Faulks' book launch last week - make of the increasingly fractious Tory party leadership contest?

"I don't have a vote, but I know who my vote would be for if I had a stake," he says mysteriously.