Pandora: The end of the Ming Dynasty? Clegg picks a new spin queen

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The Independent Online

The new Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg will clearly have acres of ground to make up this year now he has finally succeeded Sir Menzies Campbell so it is hardly surprising to hear the last remnants of the Ming dynasty are beginning to pack their bags.

Just two weeks after entering his new office, Clegg, pictured, has already dispensed with the services of Ming's popular young spin doctor, Puja Darbari.

As first reported in these pages two years ago, Darbari, a former public relations supremo for an agency called The Forster Company, was hired on the unenviable premise to present Ming as a creditable challenger to the youthful Tory leader David Cameron.

Clegg has instead decided that his very own Alastair Campbell will be the party's former head of media, Hannah Gardiner.

"Puja has decided it was just time to move on and do something else," says a party press officer. "She was hired when Menzies Campbell was leader and so often these appointments are linked to specific personalitiesr.For the time being, Hannah's appointment is still an 'acting' role but I wouldn't be surprised if that changed in the very near future."

As for Gardiner, Clegg appears to have appointed a much-needed, no-nonsense operator. As well as once working as a Home Office spokesman, she is also the former chief press officer at the Association of Chief Police Officers, as well as an ex-head of media relations for Her Majesty's Prison Service.

Day-Lewis presents an intimidating defence

Daniel Day-Lewis is having to fend off awkward questions ahead of the release of his latest movie, There Will Be Blood. The moody British actor, renowned for the intensity of his performances, is tipped to receive a fourth Oscar nomination for his role as Daniel Plainview, an early 20th-century oil prospector in Texas.

The film is due out here next month, but a rumour circulating in the Hollywood press suggests that one of the film's other protagonists a bit-part actor called Kel O'Neil had to be replaced at the 11th hour because he was so intimidated by Day-Lewis's brooding style.

Although Day-Lewis admits to a problem in this month's Empire magazine ("We were struggling"), he told US reporters this week that the story was a canard. "Whatever the problem was during that time with that particular person, I absolutely don't believe it was because he was intimidated by me," he said. "I happen to believe that. I hope I'm right."

Wolfe joins new pack

The veteran novelist Tom Wolfe has just signed the sort of book deal which is likely to keep him in his customary white linen suits for the remainder of his days.

The dandyish writer has just flogged the rights to his next novel, Back To Blood, after reportedly receiving an advance of nearly 4m. Although it is a coup for Little, Brown Book Group, which will publish the forthcoming tome, the deal marks the end of Wolfe's 40-year working relationship with the rival publishing house, Farrar, Straus and Giroux. The latter has overseen the release of 13 novels by the 76-year-old Wolfe, including his renowned 1987 masterpiece, Bonfire Of The Vanities.

A spokesman for Farrar laments: "We just couldn't agree on terms."


Alex Salmond, Scotland's first minister and all-round thorn in Gordon Brown's side, appeared on Radio 4's Today programme yesterday morning.

True to form, Salmond began behaving like the cat who's got the cream.

The interview began with the BBC's Sarah Montague recounting a quote apparently lifted from the politician's latest new year's message, announcing he intended to "steer Scotland out of the rough water into the safety of the independence light".

"That was my message from last year. I think that's caused by BBC under-staffing," he chortled.

Though he wasn't quite so chirpy when subsequently asked to deny rumours that Gordon Brown had refused to return his calls for five months.

Will Britt's girl be laughing?

There is likely to be a frank exchange of views when Britt Ekland next breaks bread with her daughter, Victoria Sellers.

Last month, the former Bond beauty, 65, revealed she wanted try her hand at stand-up comedy. It's likely to raise an eyebrow with Victoria, her 42 year-old daughter by Peter Sellers, who was forced to abandon her unsuccessful stint on the live comedy circuit in the 1990s.

Clearly, the thought hasn't occurred to Britt, whose interest has been buoyed by her successful stint in the stage version of Grumpy Old Women.

"It was a joy to do it. I've discovered a new side to myself," she said. "There's a lot of one-liners there and it has opened up my vistas. I've done comedy before but perhaps I could do stand-up."