Pandora: Real story behind PM's 'novice' quip

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There is an intriguing tale to the origins of Gordon Brown's now famous assertion that "this is no time for a novice". The phrase, uttered during the Prime Minister's speech to the autumn Labour conference, is fast becoming the political soundbite of the year.

Not only did it have the effect of making the PM's youthful opponent, David Cameron, look too green for the top job, it also had the added effect of slapping down his (then) increasingly restless Foreign Secretary, David Miliband.

It cropped up again during Prime Minister's Questions this week, when Mr Cameron mockingly suggested that Mr Brown used the phrase to congratulate the new US President-elect, Barack Obama. But where did it come from? Step forward The Sun's flame-haired editor, Rebekah Wade.

"It was during a dinner the night before Brown's speech in Manchester," I'm told. "Ed Balls muttered it while we were chatting about Cameron. No one picked up on it except Rebekah, who quite rightly thought it was dynamite and suggested he might want to get it into the speech quick-smart.

"Ed, like a loyal little terrier, duly scampered off back to his master with his tail up and the rest is history."

Wade has so far refused to take credit for it, unlike Alastair Campbell, who has boasted about coining some of Tony Blair's best soundbites.

Sultry Salma still waiting to bend it with Beckham

David Beckham's impending (albeit temporary) move from Los Angeles to the modish streets of Milan means he will leave behind one pressing piece of unfinished business.

In February, the Hollywood actress Salma Hayek paid a reported £175,000 for a private football lesson with the former England captain.

The sultry Latino was said to have outbid the Vogue editor Anna Wintour for a one-hour coaching session when they both attended a charity auction in New York being hosted by Madonna. Nine months on, however, and I am reliably informed that the lesson has still not taken place. Apparently, neither of them have been able to fit it into their busy schedules.

Says a spokesman for Team Beckham: "As yet, we haven't been able to sort out a date that suits all parties." No doubt Posh will make sure her hubby remains true to his word and works up a sweat with the not-at-all gorgeous Hayek as soon as he comes back.

Schiffer sniffs at thought of becoming modelling agent

In August last year, Naomi Campbell declared that she wanted to open her own modelling agency exclusively for black women because, she claimed, fashion magazines were "sidelining black models".

It was an admirable idea from the Streatham-born clothes horse, although it has met with a squeak of incredulity from Campbell's fellow supermodel, Claudia Schiffer.

"Oh, I would never run a model agency. I really couldn't think of anything worse," the German catwalk queen told me at a party for Vogue magazine.

"Oh God, no, definitely nothing like that. But I have been starting to think about what I'll be doing in 20 years. I won't still be modelling but I would like to stay in the fashion and beauty industry. I'm planning on doing something with longevity – not some celebrity quick-fix that you always hear about, but something that is about the product."

Schiffer, who is married to the British film director Matthew Vaughn, clearly has no plans to pursue a once-mooted acting career.

She had a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo in the Richard Curtis schmaltzfest Love Actually, but there has been nothing to report since.

Bernie blocks the Beeb's F1 team...

Bernie Ecclestone pulled off the deal of the year in March by getting the BBC to fork out £200m to bore us with Formula One racing for the next five years. The figure was £50m more than ITV's current contract, even though there were no rival bidders. Such largesse, one would think, might have bought the Beeb a few favours with the ringmaster. Not a bit of it. When it applied for accreditation for key players in next season's broadcasting team to attend Sunday's F1 race in Sao Paulo, Ecclestone flatly refused.

... as news budget is spread thinly

Elsewhere at the BBC, there has reportedly been an overspend on foreign news – so much so that the corporation nearly couldn't send a reporter to cover events in the Congo. There were concerns that BBC overseas bureaux would have to be cut, but with the £1.5m saved from not having to pay Jonathan "1,000 journalists" Ross for 12 weeks, I'm sure such talk is fanciful.

Gordon befriends LA locals

Gordon Ramsay is attempting to launch a charm offensive on his new neighbours in Los Angeles, six months after opening a restaurant in West Hollywood.

In an interview for this month's Psychologies magazine, the colourful chef was asked which part of himself he would most like to change. "The lines on my face," he said. "When I arrived in LA, people said to me, 'God it must have been traumatising, flying through a windscreen'.

"Well, at least my face is real and not six months old. I said, 'Do you mind not standing too close to me in case your boobs pop?"

Asked how he stayed in shape, Ramsay, 41, replied: "Watching Antony Worrall Thompson and Brian Turner on TV with their bellies keeps me trim. They are my inspiration to stay fit."

Win or lose, Opik will dance the night away

With all the talk about Barack Obama, it has been easy to forget another crucial election being fought on our doorsteps. On Saturday, Lembit Opik will discover whether he has succeeded Simon Hughes as leader of the Liberal Democrats. He is vying for the post alongside Baroness Ros Scott.

Whatever the result, I'm told Opik plans to let his hair down afterwards, by hosting a "winners or losers" disco in Kennington, south London.

pandora@independent.co.uk

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