Pandora: Queen's travel plans prompt election talk

The Queen's Speech at last week's State Opening of Parliament was largely overlooked because of Speaker Michael Martin's statement about the Metropolitan Police raid on the Tory MP Damian Green's office. But there was one salient detail (or lack thereof) which has since got Westminster tongues wagging.

It is customary during the speech that Her Majesty, pictured, informs the nation which state visits she and the Duke of Edinburgh will undertake during the following year. Although she disclosed that she was looking forward to receiving the President of Mexico during his state visit to Britain, there was no announcement about any of her own foreign travels.

Usually, the Queen will arrange at least two state visits per year (last year she performed three) except, that is, when she needs to be in the UK for a General Election.

Yesterday, the Foreign Office confrimed there were currently no state visits in the royal diary.

"Discussions are ongoing," I am told. "But so far no decision has been made yet with regard to next year's state visits."

Says one royal expert: "These things usually take at least six months to organise so, if one does transpire, it certainly won't be until the latter part of next year.

"It could be that, with the polls looking up for the Prime Minister these past few weeks, Gordon is keen to keep May free for the time being."

Lara Croft makes her return

Not a great deal has been heard lately about Rhona Mitra, the posh British actress who was the original model for every computer geek's favourite fantasy girl, Lara Croft.

The former model famously had her breasts enlarged to appear in the popular video game, before embarking on an acting career in Hollywood.

But despite a handful of walk-on roles, she has yet to crack the big-time.

One reason, it transpires, can be placed firmly at the feet of one of her entourage.

"I turned down Julia Stiles's role in The Bourne Identity," she says.

"I was totally gutted about that. I love those movies. But at the time, I was told it wasn't going to be great.

"I was like, 'OK... Good move, Rho."

Still, Mitra, speaking to this month's Total Film magazine, is at last starting to make waves. She recently replaced Kate Beckinsale in Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans, opposite Bill Nighy, and says she has lofty ambitions to appear opposite Daniel Day Lewis in the near future.

Lawson charms 'Mail' hacks

Nigella Lawson's appearance at The Daily Mail's annual literary lunch last week seems to have temporarily tamed the newspaper's rabid attack dogs.

The paper has run a series of unflattering articles this year referring to the domestic goddess's fluctuating waistline. But since breaking bread at Derry Street, a Christmas truce has broken out. Not only did it fail to mention her last Wednesday in its piece about Christmas repeats, even though only three of the five episodes of her series contain new material, the following day it ran an article from the Radio Times on her "stress-free Christmas".

This, despite the fact (though naturally omitted) that she refers to Mail hacks as "dingbats" in the original piece.

Could Nigella have discovered the recipe for avoiding Mail hatchet jobs?

Backley's the name, don't misuse it

Steve Backley's javelin throwing days are long gone, but he still jealously guards his own commercial value.

The former British Olympian recently registered his name with the Intellectual Property Office. Apparently, the move is so he can use it to brand an "exclusive" range of artificial limbs.

Backley's endorsement of prosthetics isn't as unlikely as it sounds. Earlier this year, he took part in ITV's Dancing On Ice shortly after he was fitted with a replacement hip.

Byrne's showbiz credentials

Liam Byrne has laughed off accusations that his diva-like demands would make even Mariah Carey blush. Two weeks ago, a leaked memo to cabinet minister's staff revealed his demands, which included "cappuccino when I come in, espresso at 3pm and soup at 12.30-1pm". "My family and I were very amused at the comparisons to Mariah Carey," he told guests at a Cabinet drinks do at Admiralty House. "But they do say that politics is showbusiness for ugly people."

Ye hae tae keek it tae believe it...

No expense was spared on the Scottish Parliament, least of all its flashy website. Visitors can access it in a several languages, including Arabic and Urdu. There's even a "Scots" option, which reads rather like an Irvine Welsh novel: "Ye are walcome tae visit Pairlament tae hae a keek roon or find oot aboot whit wey the Pairlament warks," reads one note.

pandora@independent.co.uk

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