Pandora: Hain passes the time by penning new biography of Mandela

Like many of his old Labour frontbench colleagues who are no longer burdened with chauffeur-driven cars or grace-and-favour homes, Peter Hain has decided to dedicate his spare time to putting pen to paper.

The former Work and Pensions Secretary, who resigned from the Cabinet in January after his failure to declare donations to his campaign for the deputy leadership of the party was reported to the police, is working on a biography of Nelson Mandela.

According to the most recent Register of Members' Interests, the MP for Neath has received an advance of £8,000 from the Octopus Publishing Group. "I was commissioned to do it. I am aiming to produce something really readable," said Hain. "There are lots and lots of long and learned books out there that have been written about Mandela but nothing that is very accessible, in my opinion.

"I want this to be accessible to sixth-formers and something that people can pick up at a train station for a long journey.

"Nelson Mandela is such a world icon but not much is known about him really. There is very little known about his childhood and things like that."

Hain, of course, has a long history of involvement in South African affairs. Born in Pretoria, he had to leave the country at the age of 16 when his activist parents were barred from working by the National Party government. During the 1970s, he became involved with a number of anti-Apartheid groups in London.

Hain admits he now has "a bit more spare time" on his hands to complete the tome. "I find it rather unusual to be writing about a friend and a hero," he adds. "I first met Mandela when he came out of prison, but he knew my parents from when they lived in Pretoria."

Liddle duzh he know...

At least Rod Liddle is doing his utmost to keep the Haltemprice and Howden by-election vaguely entertaining.

"Mr Cameron, will you be returning next week to offer your support to Mr Cameron?" the journalist demanded to know on Wednesday, after a lengthy session in a local watering hole with the Beauties for Britain Party candidate, Gemma Garrett. "I am Mr Cameron," sniffed the Tory leader, before taking another question.

Tam pops a question

As the father of the "West Lothian question", Tam Dalyell was an obvious choice to appear on last night's Question Time to discuss a possible referendum on Scottish independence. He had been booked, but was dropped after Labour put forward a Scottish minister, David Cairns, instead. Dalyell wrote in Wednesday's Times questioning the wisdom of granting Scottish Parliament more powers. Surely the Labour lot weren't peeved?

When 007 lacked that killer instinct

James Bond's CV has him listed as an expert marksman, but the secret agent's current on-screen avatar, Daniel Craig, would struggle to hit the proverbial cow's backside with a banjo.

We owe this revelation to Garrett Young, the creator of the Xbox video game based on Bond's latest movie outing, Quantum Of Solace.

He says: "[Daniel] picked up a controller and [managed to] picked up on the first-person controls almost immediately, although he was getting killed at lot at first, until I explained the cover system to him."

Craig's main preoccupation, however, was that the techno swots in charge of creating his image were able to replicate his chiselled looks. "He was a little apprehensive about whether he was going to look like crap," adds Young.

Didz talks dirty about Barat's gig

If Carl Barat's band Dirty Pretty Things aren't up to snuff when they perform at the O2 Wireless Festival in London's Hyde Park tonight, blame their bass player, Didz.

"I saw him on Chalk Farm Road opposite the Roundhouse last night, chatting away on his mobile," reports a reader. "He was complaining that he had been having guitar problems and moaned about being fed up with Carl Barat, though he didn't say why.

"He also said he couldn't be arsed rehearsing at the moment, but it didn't matter because 'it's only the Wireless'."

Zoo will benefit from Cleese confidential

The comedian John Cleese's impending divorce from his third wife, Alyce Faye Eichelberger, looks like making the court battle between Sir Paul McCartney and Heather Mills seem positively amicable.

Interesting, then, that the Monty Python star has agreed to air his dirty laundry in public when he gives a no-holds-barred talk at the Redgrave Theatre in Bristol on 23 July.

"John has already said the question-and-answer session will be very wide-ranging and virtually nothing with be off-limits, including his three marriages," says the organiser, former That's Life presenter Chris Searle. "I have worked with John in the past and I think it's going to be great fun working with him again."

The talk is in support of Bristol Zoo, which stands next-door to Cleese's old school, Clifton College. As a boy, he was apparently particularly fond of the lemurs.

pandora@independent.co.uk

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