Pandora: Oliver bites a hand that feeds him

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The Independent Online

There was excitement in Westminster when Jamie Oliver paid a visit to the House of Commons last week.

Appearing before the health select committee, he caused a quite a furore with autograph-hunting MPs and paparazzi photographers jamming the corridors to catch a glimpse of the culinary crusader.

But it wasn't all fun and games. As well as warning of the "obesity horror show" facing Britain, Oliver managed to have a dig at European Union labelling standards.

"I have nothing nice to say about the EU at all," he stormed. "I wish it never existed. Frankly, I only care about Great Britain."

While his remarks provoked fits of glee from eurosceptic members – Tory Peter Bone described him as "the best witness the committee has ever had on the EU" – they have raised eyebrows among others who point to the little-known fact that Oliver has spent the past two years on the receiving end of considerable EU generosity.

In 2006, his Fifteen restaurant in Watergate Bay, Cornwall – an outpost of the trendy east London eatery made famous in the television show Jamie's Kitchen – began receiving money from the European Regional Development Fund to subsidise its apprenticeship scheme and boost the local economy.

Oliver's publicist insists the contradiction is a matter of simple misunderstanding. "I don't think he meant to refer to EU so much as its rules on labelling or cucumber shape."

Konnie's sister aims for power

Ever since her encounter with the burly Chinese guardians of the Olympic torch during the London parade, the former Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq has kept rather quiet. Not so her sister Dr Rupa Huq – who recently caused a stir with a scathing attack on David Cameron, describing him as nothing but "Blair-lite". Dr Huq, a sociology lecturer and aspiring Labour MP who came third in the Chesham and Amersham constituency in 2005, plans to run for Parliament again at the next election. But can we expect her more famous sibling to show some support at the stumps? Er, apparently not.

"It's all a bit awkward really because, as a television presenter I'm supposed to be objective," says Konnie. "She's doing very well but, um, well I'm not sure what I can do if she runs."

Perhaps its best to plays it safe. A year ago, the perky presenter came under fire for unintentionally breaking BBC impartiality guidelines. She appeared with the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, to endorse a cycling event. As well as a considerable knuckle-rapping, Huq was told to make a grovelling public apology to the Conservatives.

Playwright credits our man Fisk's work as his inspiration

Collaborations between authors and scriptwriters are notoriously difficult to negotiate – think late-night wrangling over royalties and diva-level tantrums.

But for Glenn Chandler, whose latest play, Boys Of Empire, is about to open in London, the process was rather more enjoyable.

The Bafta-award winning creator of the television detective series Taggart tells me that his inspiration came after reading The Great War for Civilisation by Robert Fisk of The Independent.

"After reading his book, I just started going to see him speak and keeping an eye out for events he was attending to hear more." he said. "If I'm honest, without that book there never would have been any play."

Although Chandler has attended numerous lectures given by Fisk, he has yet to actually meet his muse. "I have only seen him from a distance," he added. "I'm trying to get hold of him in time for the London opening – I'd really like to get him to come along if he was over here."

DiCaprio misses Obama bash

Talk about a diary clash. For most of Barack Obama's supporters, last week's election night was one long party, with revellers turning out across America to drink a toast to their new President.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Leonardo DiCaprio who, despite his eulogising on the subject, missed out on the chance to join in the victory celebrations because he was on a promotional tour of Europe.

"I was in Rome for the Body Of Lies premiere when he won. I didn't get the chance to go to any parties," DiCaprio told me at the London screening of the film, in which he plays a CIA agent working undercover in the Middle East. Instead, the Hollywood actor spent the evening holed up in an Italian hotel room.

"I stayed up all night in my room watching the news until the results came in and Obama got up to make his acceptance speech," he said.

"Luckily I'm travelling with some American friends, so I wasn't entirely alone."

Stage fright for Follett, the part-time rocker

Spare a thought for the novelist (and amateur bass guitarist) Ken Follett. He was en route to sound-check for his performance at the Dyslexia Action Awards when Pandora ran into him, and had just discovered the identity of the man who was to be his warm-up act: the legendary Rolling Stone Bill Wyman. "He is even introducing me," muttered Follett, whose books have sold 100 million copies.

Despite the competition, I am told his rendition of Wilson Pickett's "Mustang Sally" managed impress on the night. "He is actually very good," said one onlooker.

Critic decides to eat his words

A quick change in the wings for Nicholas de Jongh, the London Evening Standard's theatre critic. In a press blurb for the paper's annual theatre awards, he praises Kenneth Branagh, nominated as best actor for his lead role in Anton Chekov's Ivanov, as having been part of "an astonishing year for London theatre". But his review a few weeks ago was less charitable. "The starrily talented Branagh strikes me as fundamentally miscast," he ranted. "His Ivanov remains strangely phlegmatic, morosely grounded and introverted."

Zilli signs a crafty sponsorship deal

An unlikely endorsement for the snack maker Kraft, in the rotund form of Aldo Zilli. The Italian chef has signed up to be the face of Kraft's flagship Philadelphia cheese. But why? Pandora couldn't help but ask after spotting him at the launch of the new Victorinox store in London's New Bond Street. "It doesn't make you fat and it's inoffensive," he mused. High praise indeed.

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