Pandora: Murdoch matriarch's sideswipe at Wendi

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The Independent Online

Rupert Murdoch's 99-year-old mother, Dame Elisabeth, might strike you as a harmless old dear, but that hasn't stopped her from planting a right hook on her icy daughter-in-law Wendi Deng.

Over the weekend, Dame Elisabeth granted an interview to the Australian press to mark her forthcoming centenary.

Whilst discussing her son's divorce from his second wife, Anna, she accused Deng, his wife of nine years, of being a "designing woman."

"I was devoted to Anna and she and Rupert had the most wonderful marriage," she said.

"I remember Rupert telling me they weren't happy and they were having counselling, and I said: 'Rupert, you are going to be terribly lonely and what will happen is that the first designing woman will come along and snap you up.'

"He said, 'Don't be ridiculous, mum. I'm too old for that' – but that's exactly what happened."

Similar views are expected to be aired in Vanity Fair journalist Michael Wolff's forthcoming biography of Murdoch. He has already promised "good stuff" from the family matriarch whom he was able to interview extensively for the book.

Speaking about her relationship with her son, Wolff told yesterday's Independent on Sunday: "Does Elisabeth revere him? No, not that fondly."

11 angry men and a supermodel?

Erin O'Connor's beauty, and, it appears, brains, have brought her fame and even greater fortune, but even she is bound by the everyday demands of civic duty.

The gangly Marks & Spencer supermodel recently had to interrupt her busy schedule after being called up for jury service.

"It didn't affect me at all. I was treated just like everyone else," she told me.

"The case lasted for two weeks but it was very worthwhile and I thoroughly enjoyed it."

O'Connor of course couldn't discuss what the trial was about or who was involved, but whoever he or she was, they are likely to have added her to their Christmas card list. "I can't say anything about the case, but put it this way it was a really interesting topic and the person in question was not found guilty," she added.

Thunderstruck at the ballet

Tony Blair famously eschewed high culture during his time in office, for fear of damaging his carefully cultivated image as a man of the people.

David Cameron isn't so fussed. The Tory leader was in the audience at last week's London opening night of the National Ballet's production of Sleeping Beauty.

According to his wife Samantha, pictured right, their four-year-old daughter Nancy is already an aspiring ballerina.

"Nancy has started going to ballet lessons," she told Pandora.

"But if she is anything like me then co-ordination is likely to be an obstacle to her progress."

As for the performance, Cameron appeared quite impressed.

"I think it is wonderful," he added. "There's nothing better than watching them all thunder across the dance floor."

Now Westwood's out to lunch

*Ben Westwood's campaign against the forthcoming Government bill to ban "extreme pornography" is stepping up a gear.

The photographer, son of fashion doyenne Dame Vivienne, has designed a series of collectable lunchboxes bearing the sort of pornographic images which will in effect become illegal when the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 becomes law in January 2009.

Delightfully, he's planning to release one such box depicting the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, bound and gagged. Westwood had hoped to project the image on to the Houses of Parliament, but has been advised by the Palace of Westminster Police that he must seek prior consent from the crimson-coiffed Serjeant-at-Arms, Jill Pay.

He reckons Pay is likely to decline his request, but after her recent decision to let the Metropolitan Police rootle around the Commons at will, I say it's worth asking.

For sale, will suit friend of a Sultan

Faccombe Estate, the former Hampshire home of the reclusive millionaire Timothy Landon, has been put up for sale. The estate, which I'm told boasts one of the finest shoots in the land, is currently on the market for around £30m.

Landon, the so-called "modern day Lawrence of Arabia", was a close adviser to the Sultan of Oman. Rumour had it that each year on his birthday, he received a cheque from the Sultan for £1m.

How Abbey put Alan up the creek

Tousle-haired comedian Alan Davies was forced to grovel last Christmas for trying to munch drunkenly on a homeless man's ear. He says his greatest regret, however, were those dubious ads he used to front for Abbey National. "I was paid £1.3m, but you lose half in tax and commission," he confesses in this week's Radio Times. "It was a mistake I regret. It tarnished me, and spoiled my stand-up."