Pandora: Opik's anti-terror crusade continues

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The Independent Online

He may be down but the man's not out: having lost out on the Liberal Democrat presidency, Lembit Opik has no intention of going quietly.

Quite the opposite, in fact, as the colourful politician tells me he intends to launch a one-man diplomatic mission in the direction of al-Qa'ida.

Opik, who was beaten into second place by Baroness Ros Scott despite an expensive and long-running campaign, insists he will devote all his energies to establishing dialogue with the terrorist organisation, and argues that his experience as the party's Northern Ireland spokesman will prove crucial to his mission.

"I'm serious about talking to al-Qa'ida," he says. "If they'll talk to me, I'll talk to them. It worked in Northern Ireland. I came into politics to make a difference, and one way or another, I'm going to."

The MP, who gave up a frontbench post in order to campaign for the presidency, has also launched his first outspoken attack on his party. "They have no courage in their campaigning approach," he claims.

"I stood for the presidency and they declined my offer. But the crusade continues."

No WAGs but riches for Lavin

Pandora would rather stay on the right side of model-turned-actress Jo-Emma Lavin – after all, her boyfriend is Wales's undefeated boxing sensation, Joe Calzaghe.

So now might be an opportune moment to make clear that we absolutely did not, under any circumstances, snigger when she asked not to be called a "WAG". No, not even a bit.

"I'm modelling and acting," she explains.

"Anyway, when Joe's preparing for a match it's a full-time job for both of us.

"He eats a special healthy diet. I cook all his meals for him. When he can't eat cakes and biscuits, I don't either. When he has to give up alcohol, I quit."

At any rate, she rightly points out, the $10m (£6.7m) prize money collected after Joe beat Roy Jones Jnr in Madison Square Gardens was a drop in the ocean compared to most sporting salaries.

"Boxers, even champions, don't earn anything like the insane amounts footballers do. I've got a couple of designer handbags," she insists. "That's it. I'm crazy about shoes, but mine are from Dune and Faith – ordinary high street shops. I certainly can't afford to swan out and snap up dozens of pairs of Jimmy Choos."

Poor girl. It almost makes you think Wales's golden boy should reconsider his much-mooted retirement.

George's Tesco habit

Despite all his gloom over the pound, George Osborne isn't shy of associating himself with one of the country's biggest businesses.

In a weekend interview the embattled shadow Chancellor was eager to stress that his family was feeling the pinch as much as anyone else.

"Like everyone we're looking at the family budget," he insisted. "I have a Tesco loyalty card in my wallet."

It's not the first handy mention that Osborne has given the groceries giant in recent weeks.

Not long ago in his Tatton constituency he took part in a cosy photo-op, presenting a Tesco-donated video camera to a local school.

As they say, every little helps.

Chace takes his pick

Further to my story last week that Chace Crawford, star of teen drama Gossip Girl, was spotted meeting production bosses at the Donmar Warehouse, some details of the fetching actor's theatrical ambitions emerge.

"My ideal would be to do an Arthur Miller or a Chekhov play," Crawford confirmed to me at a cocktail party. "Although it's very early days at the moment, I'm definitely keen to come to the West End rather than Broadway. That said, I've not done any theatre before so I'm not sure I'd be quite ready for the leap into musicals yet."

Oh go on Chace, be brave!

Leonard practises his tree pose

Unusual images from back stage at the Royal Albert Hall, where Leonard Cohen is performing the London leg of his international tour. I'm told the brooding musician, who converted to Buddhism a while ago, has taken to engaging staff in collective mediation sessions. "He does the tree pose," says Charley Webb, one of Cohen's banking singers. "He stands there in his Armani suit, balancing on one leg and singing Latin songs."

Christmas is cancelled (again)

The credit crunch has claimed another victim, in the festive form of Sudeley Castle's annual "Christmas at the Castle" party. The historic monument, which last year hosted Liz Hurley's wedding, has announced it will not be hanging up the Christmas mistletoe because of financial pressure. "People just aren't spending as much as usual," explained a spokesperson.