Proud vows to rescue his debt-laden galleries

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The Independent Online

* Alex Proud has made his name by packing his photography galleries in Camden and The Strand with celebrities - both in print and in person.

I hear that the business, Proud Galleries Ltd, is to be liquidated, however, after running up debts of more than £550,000.

"He has not paid a lot of people," a former employee tells me. "Loads of photographers are in the shit."

Administrators are talking to creditors at the moment about reaching agreement on the debts.

The Israeli photographer David Rubinger staged an exhibit six months ago and tells me he has still not received a cheque. "I printed and shipped 250kg of books and collectors' prints from Israel to Camden.

"All 200 volumes sold and I was supposed to receive £15 for each. Alex Proud's accounting department sent me - in writing - what they owed me: £14,276.50. To this day I have not seen a penny.

"Facing Proud during a recent visit to London he simply said he had no money, was going into voluntary receivership and that he was 'terribly sorry', what he had done 'hurt' him. Great. I am left with sleepless nights of anger and frustration."

Proud comments: "Pretty much all of the money is owed to the taxman and my family, mostly to my wife. I hope the Inland Revenue will look favourably upon the circumstances as I have thrown so much into it. I put the £30,000 deposit for my first house into it earlier this year and I sold my car as well. We will save the business."

* For a man responsible for such culinary oddities as snail porridge and bacon and egg ice-cream, Heston Blumenthal is often credited as a real-life Willy Wonka.

Apt, then, that this Sunday, he will be paying homage to the eccentric chocolate maker's creator at the official Roald Dahl tea party being held at the museum set up in memory of the great children's author.

Blumenthal has been asked to create a special Roald Dahl birthday cake, which he will prepare in front of the day's guests.

About 90 people will attend, including most of Dahl's remaining clan including his widow, Felicity.

She and Blumenthal have remained friends ever since she dined at his restaurant, The Fat Duck, in Bray, and proclaimed: "At last, I meet the real Willy Wonka!"

No word on what ointments and potions may be ingredients.

* Sir Ian McKellen has not joined the hordes lavishing praise on Stephen Frears' new movie, The Queen.

At Wednesday's premiere, I overheard McKellen "post-morteming" with Sir David Frost in the foyer. "It was far too sympathetic to the Queen," said McKellen. "You could see she was jealous of Diana's popularity."

Frost had kinder words about Frost/Nixon, the play which recounts his encounter with Richard Nixon. When McKellen asked whether Michael Sheen [who plays Frost] was on his Christmas card list, Sir David replied: "Yes, because he's doing a genuine impression of me, not like Rory Bremner just doing [and here Frost slips into an impression of Bremner doing an impression of Frost]: 'Hulllooo, Good Evening and Welcome!'"

Praise indeed.

* Oh, to have been a fly on the wall in David Miliband's meeting room over at the Department for the Environment on Wednesday afternoon.

Ministers had called in the chief execs of Britain's "big six" energy companies to persuade them to do more to conserve energy. Proceedings were delayed while the assorted civil servants and CEOs attempted to switch off three enormous radiators, which, for some reason, were blazing away during the balmiest September in memory.

They eventually gave up and simply opened the windows, allowing the excess hot air (no jokes) to escape into the atmosphere.

"Do as we say, not as we do," chuntered one fat cat.

* From time to time, journalists at The Guardian lament editor Alan Rusbridger's refusal to break the tension of press deadlines with some gentle piano playing in the corner of the newsroom. The former chorister and clarinettist describes his tinkling of the ivories as sometimes "fumbling, dismal, depressing" - overly modest, I'm sure. Relief is at hand for his hacks, however, because soprano Helen Dixon - better known as Helen Hodgson, assistant readers' editor - will this lunchtime perform a selection of "classical French songs

for the end of the summer", accompanied on piano by the nifty Julian

Jacobson. There will also be "readings of English reflections on France".

Splendid! The concert is for Guardian staff and friends only, but if you

check eBay, there might still be time to strike a deal with an internet tout...