Order! Order! Mick skips dinner to flee to Glasgow

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It is fair to say that, for some, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia's contentious state visit to our shores is the political equivalent of a shit sandwich.

First up, the meeting between his foreign secretary Saud al-Faisal and David Milliband was called off, after the swotty Brit, 42, flew to the US to meet his newly adopted son.

Then, on Tuesday night, there was a no-show at Buckingham Palace's state banquet, by the Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael "Gorbals Mick" Martin.

Tradition dictates that the Speaker attends such events and breaks bread with foreign dignitaries. Indeed, Martin went to each of the banquets in recent years in honour of the presidents of Ghana, China, the US, Russia and South Africa, and the King of Jordan.

He was absent at the Palace this week, however. "It was very unusual," I'm told, "because he rarely misses these big dinners – although his wife is not keen on them. It looks like a snub."

A spokesman for Martin confirms that he would normally dine at such Palace occasions. "But Parliament is not sitting for a week [until the Queen's speech] so the Speaker has gone back to [his constituency in] Scotland. He wasn't going to come down from Scotland just for the banquet."

Martin appears to have been in a terrible rush to travel north from London. Parliament was prorogued (suspended) on Tuesday afternoon; he only had to hang around for a few hours and he could have attended the banquet and still got back to Mrs Martin. Oh well!

Has Damien sprung another leak?

As a controversialist of some standing, Damien Hirst is accustomed to causing a stink. But it is his materials, rather than his subject matter, that's creating a whiff at a new Kiev exhibition.

Hirst pieces owned by the billionaire Ukrainian Viktor Pinchuk are on show in the capital. One, called Jesus and the Disciples, consists of 13 steel tanks, 12 of them each containing a knackered cow's head pickled in formaldehyde.

Visitors complain that the gallery pongs something rotten and speculate that the containers are leaking – which would be a blow to Hirst, whose shark corroded, and Mother and Child Divided cows leaked.

"The pungent smell of a formaldehyde-based solution was unmistakeable," says a reporter from The Art Newspaper. "It was very unpleasant to be in the room."

The gallery blames it on another of Hirst's works, which uses a strong resin to attach flies to canvas. Phew.

Make my Marie a double

A curious guest at The Ivy on Monday night for the launch of Marie Helvin's autobiography: the Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin.

As a pair, the former supermodel, 55, and the battle-hardened reporter, 49, make unlikely chums. Colvin, who once reportedly ran up a £26,000 bill after forgetting to turn off her satellite phone, is more commonly found chasing flying lead than canapé waiters, and wears a patch after losing her eye in a grenade blast in Sri Lanka in 2001.

Apparently, they struck up a friendship because of the confusion created by their similar surnames: Colvin gets "stiffies" inviting her to red carpet openings of paper bags, while Helvin gets asked to embassy drinks.

"I have asked Marie if she'd swap roles," says Colvin. "She can go to Baghdad, and I'll do the glamorous parties each night. But she wasn't that keen on the idea."

Unlucky break

Commiserations to the Gillingham MP Paul Clark, who has had a footballing accident. His local paper, Your Medway, breaks the unfortunate news. Under the sensitive front-page headline, "MP PAUL'S SHOCKING WRIST JOB", it reveals that Clark broke both wrists during a kickabout in a church hall. He didn't realise he had shattered his arms, so played on: "I got back to the car with my son and realised I couldn't drive."

* Slap! The PM put Heather Mills in her box after she told GMTV: "I spoke to Gordon Brown and he thinks [a privacy law] is a great idea." Says a No 10 source: "She approached GB after his GMTV interview. He said he'd look into it. But he's made clear he rejects statutory regulation of the press."

Dec's business breakfast

Check the hair of of BBC Breakfast's Declan Curry this morning for flour or flecks of egg. I hear the roly-poly business presenter has been sent on a team "cooking therapy" session with two colleagues, weatherwoman Carol Kirkwood and sports reporter Chris Hollins.

Earlier this week, the trio were despatched to Venturi's Table, a corporate cookery centre on an industrial estate in Wandsworth, where they bonded over attempts to make spinach and ricotta ravioli. "Declan broadcasts from the Stock Exchange and rarely spends time with his studio colleagues," says a workmate. "So this was a chance for him to get to know them better."

Apprently, sports guy Hollins made a hell of a mess but still emerged triumphant with his impressive "chocolate salami" dessert.

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