Prince of Interference and the museum's missing icons

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The Independent Online

* Prince Charles doesn't just use angry "black spider" letters to harass politicians. They're also helping him to stick a nose into the day-to-day running of Britain's foremost cultural institutions.

Our future king has made an extraordinary attempt to make the British Museum reorganise its collection, in order to create a special gallery that will house its religious icons.

In a move that will lead to further accusations of improper interference, it has emerged that the Prince wrote to the museum's director, Neil MacGregor, last year, shortly after a visit to Mount Athos.

According to The Art Newspaper, which has seen the correspondence, he complained that only 16 of the museum's 102 icons were on display. The rest were banged-up in storage.

In a lengthy letter, which details his longstanding interest in Greek Orthodoxy, the Prince described this as an unacceptable waste, and requested that MacGregor set up a special room to house them.

Sadly, MacGregor - one of the most powerful men in British arts - doesn't take kindly to being bossed around. His reply politely told the "dissident" Prince to get stuffed, saying icons shouldn't be regarded as a special category of objects deserving their own room.

"The prime interest in icons at the British Museum is not as autonomous works of art, but as documents of a changing approach to faith and society," he said, crisply.

* Despite her sunny disposition, Dawn French has landed slap bang in the middle of a stinking show-business dispute.

Michael Coveney, the leading theatre critic, was banned from the opening of French's West End play Smaller last night after his employer - Theatregoer magazine, and Whatsonstage.com - upset French's producers by criticising ticket pricing.

The firm's editorial director, Terri Paddock, revealed last night that all her journalists, TV crews, and photographers were banned from ther play, co-staring the singer Alison Moyet.

"The producers, Phil McIntyre entertainment, said this stems from us criticising them for charging £65 for seats at their show Acorn Antiques," she says. "It's pretty shabby behaviour on their part."

Coveney was also spitting feathers. "It's pathetic," he says. "I'm a fully paid-up Dawn French admirer, and can only assume they've something to hide."

Phil McIntyre were yesterday reported to the Critics Circle. At time of going to print, they hadn't returned calls.

* Who should have paid a decidedly low-profile visit to London at the weekend but the Hollywood superstar Goldie Hawn.

There is speculation, fuelled by the appearance of a lawyer on her arm, that she's about to become the latest US star to take a turn on the West End stage. But I gather thay it was actually a social visit.

"Goldie pitched up at a new arts club off Regent Street, called Hedges & Butler," I'm told. "She was on a stopover on a flight to Mumbai, and fancied a night out. Her lawyer was the only chum who happened to be free."

When she arrives in India, Hawn will appear at the Kitab literary festival. "Goldie Hawn will be discussing her recent spiritual memoir A Lotus Grows in the Mud," the programme reads.

"She will then reflect on seminal life experiences with [Tatler editor] Geordie Greig."

Living the dream!

* David Blunkett shocked the literary world on Monday by turning down mega-bucks to sign a £400,000 book deal with Bloomsbury.

Apparently, this saves him from having to discuss bedroom antics in the memoir, which now threatens to resemble dullest ditchwater.

It may not, however, be the most boring book Bloomsbury prints this year. That'll be Gordon Brown's Speeches, unveiled yesterday, which are endorsed by Nelson Mandela.

"They show a vision of a better world for all, a vision to which he's deeply committed,' says Mandela. "Reading them gives an insight into the man behind the politician, and the values behind the policies."

Why doesn't Nelson just write: Gordon for PM?

* Splendidly, Paul Oakenfold is doing his bit to knock a few chunks off the value of Tony Blair's property portfolio.

The dance music DJ just happens to own the next-door house to our Prime Minister's Connaught Square retirement pad, bought with a £3.5m mortgage a couple of years back.

He looks like being a neighbour from hell. Discussing the matter for the first time this week - in an interview with Time Out - Oakenfold reveals that other local residents have persuaded council officials to confiscate his sound system.

Should Blair now decide to play his guitar loudly at the weekend, things could get nasty. "I'd bang on the wall, and get my own back for that poxy noise Bill he's introduced," says Oakey, threateningly.

pandora@independent.co.uk

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