Prince's head chef joins staff exodus from Clarence House

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* It's gone past the stage of looking like carelessness. The Prince of Wales has lost yet another member of his household staff with the departure of his trusted head chef, Gary Robinson.

* It's gone past the stage of looking like carelessness. The Prince of Wales has lost yet another member of his household staff with the departure of his trusted head chef, Gary Robinson.

Mr Robinson, who is off to work at a hotel in Dubai, becomes the latest in a string of flunkies to walk out of Clarence House.

In June, senior equerry Rupert Lendrum and press officer Kirsteen Clark resigned, and in July, Pandora revealed that special assistant Virginia Carrington and assistant private secretary Paul Kefford were packing their bags too.

Royal sources yesterday said that Mr Robinson was leaving on amicable terms, having grown weary of the Prince's complicated dietary requirements.

"Charles pays for four full-time chefs, but there isn't as much work as there used to be," I'm told. "The Prince rarely eats lunch these days, and Gary, who is a talented and creative cook, got bored of having so little to do."

Meanwhile, Clarence House confirmed Robinson's departure. "He's spent seven great years here," said a spokesman. "I've just spoken to him and he asked me to stress that he's had a very happy time."

There's no respite for the Prince's personnel department, though. The unfair dismissal case of Elaine Day - the PA Charles described as "so PC she frightens me rigid" - resumes in February.

* FOR ALL its cutbacks, the BBC is still capable of pulling in the big hitters.

The Oscar-winning society superstar Julian Fellowes - whose Mary Poppins musical oppened in the West End on Wednesday - is adapting his novel Snobs for the small screen.

"It's very early days on the scripts, but I think it'll work well on television," he tells me. "It's going to be in three parts. I've been working on Mary Poppins for two years, but I'm rather looking forward to adapting my own work this time."

The project is being produced by BBC Drama's Gareth Neame, who made the fruity costume drama Tipping the Velvet .

Fellowes's wife, Lady Emma is already looking forward to casting an eye over the script.

"I'll lock myself in my bedroom with the dogs and unplug the phones and read it straight through in bed," she tells me.

* THE FIRST notable celebrity Christmas card of the year flutters down Pandora's chimney. It's from Bernie Ecclestone, who has commissioned a festive cartoon showing him surrounded by car manufacturers and representatives of the other bodies with which he has recently fallen out.

The diminutive Formula One magnate, pictured is in the middle, playing with a load of juggling balls. His Yuletide message: "Try to enjoy Christmas, which after all is only once a year, and let's hope there are not so many balls in the air in 2005."

With a miserable greeting like that, I fear Mr Ecclestone is in danger of proving the maxim that money can't buy you happiness.

* UNION JACK baseball caps off to Tim Henman, whose wife Lucy gave birth to their second daughter, Olivia, at London's Queen Charlotte and Chelsea hospital on Wednesday.

Let's hope fatherhood mellows the British number one, who recently described the UK press as "probably the worst media in the world," who "know nothing about the game".

Last Monday - as this column reported - he declined to accept the Player of the Year award at the Lawn Tennis Writers Association's annual dinner, citing the imminent arrival of his new child. But that seems to have been forgotten now: according to Henman's personal internet site, he gratefully turned up on the night, and collected the gong in person.

* They don't miss a trick, those cheeky government whips. Every Labour MP has just been sent a booklet, showing them how to make political capital out of Gordon Brown's forthcoming Child Trust Fund.

Launched next month, the Chancellor's policy is regarded as a vote-winner. So MPs are required to seek out the first child born in their constituency after it takes effect, and present it with a bottle of House of Commons champagne.

"Obviously, we have to pay for this ourselves," grumbles one backbencher. "I can think of cheaper ways to buy votes: for starters the flipping babies aren't able to vote for another 18 years."

pandora@independent.co.uk

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