Radical Ridley gives a Saudi prince the shakes

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The Independent Online

Since she fell off an Afghan donkey in 2001, was kidnapped by Taliban fighters and subsequently converted to Islam, Yvonne Ridley has rubbed a few brothers and sisters of the faith up the wrong way.

The warning signs were there from the outset: while imprisoned, the then-hard-drinking Sunday Express hack upset her captors by pinning her "big, flappy, black knickers" to their washing line. She described Abu Hamza as "quite sweet really". A cleric labelled her "extremist" for refusing to shake hands with Sheikh Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi - the highest spiritual authority for a billion Sunnis.

Now news reaches me from Saudi Arabia that Ridders has struck again, last week offending another beacon of the faith: Prince Turki bin Sultan, the son of the Kingdom's Crown Prince.

Saudi royalty are known for their ultra-orthodox Wahhabism (think dress codes, segregation and extreme interpretation of Sharia law - chopping hands, stoning, etc). But when, at a sumptuous post-Haj buffet in Jeddah, the smiling prince extended his hand, Ridley refused to shake it on religious grounds. She says: "It's not a case of me offending the prince. He has offended me. I don't shake hands."

Prince Turki, witnessed by court officials, diplomats and Saudi socialites, dismissed her with a contemptuous wave of his hand.

Rumours that Ridley is giving Koran lessons to Daily Express editor Peter Hill - famous for headlines such as: "Bikers have to show their faces, so should Muslims" and "High time we locked our doors" - are unconfirmed.

Wedding cake on the menu for Tom

The flame-haired chef Tom Aikens had already planned a busy 2007: he recently opened his second eatery in Chelsea, Tom's Kitchen, and his twin brother arrives from New York next month to join the family firm.

Which is handy. Because I hear Aikens will take time away from the stove to marry his PR girlfriend of 18 months, Amber Nuttall.

Aikens popped the question during a Christmas skiing break in Idaho. "We were in a really lovely place called Sun Valley - so romantic," he says. "Obviously, we're both very excited."

The duo are quite the power couple. Nuttall oversees the guestlist at trendy Mayfair boîte Fifty, while Aikens's eponymous haunt boasts a Michelin star (signature dish: braised pig's head, stuffed trotters and crispy shards of ear, with celeriac lasagne).

Hopefully the caterers won't make a pig's ear of the wedding breakfast.

Crazy gang after Queen Kate

Woolworths has famously jumped the gun on the as-yet-imaginary royal nuptials of Prince Wills and Kate Middleton by unveiling a range of themed commemorative "gifts": plates, mouse mats, action figures, spoons and slippers.

The madness is only just beginning, however. Tonight, the Unofficial Kate Middleton Fan Club holds its inaugural meeting, outside Chelsea nightclub Boujis, where Ms Middleton is (or was) due to party. "We invite fellow Kate enthusiasts to join us at 11.30pm and cheer the arrival of her almost-royal Boujiness.

"Posters are encouraged, and please, out of love for this lady, show up dressed as your favourite Kate: business seductive Kate; aspirant royal Kate; evening Kate; or athletic/casual Kate."

I promise to carp no longer about the cost of Royal Protection Squad officers.

Disrespect

Apologies to readers who caught George Galloway on Channel 4's Friday Night Project.

But it would be a shame to miss the opportunity to record for posterity howbearded comedian Justin Lee Collins - stripped to his Y-fronts and a grimy vest - attempted simulated sex with Mr Galloway in front of a large studio audience; offered his hairy nipple to Mr Galloway; and wrapped his flabby, naked thighs around Mr Galloway's shoulders. Mr Galloway appeared surprised.

A certain milk-licking, leotard- wearing parliamentarian warned Celebrity Big Brother contestants before they went on television last week: "Check the contract carefully and keep the duvet over your head for as long as you can."

Hope the pay's handsome, George!

'Gissajob Boulton' leads the pack

Lobby journalists mark each new year by replacing their chairman - on this occasion a chap called Frank Prenesti, who writes for financial news wire AFX.

Prenesti's administration will be remembered for his bullying of the Westminster catering wallahs about late-night watering holes for hacks. Also for the occasion he urged colleagues to attend future Lobby briefings dressed in their national football jerseys and shorts.

The new incumbent has the dubious honour of controlling rowdy hacks during their daily briefings by the Prime Minister's official spokesman.

The surprise frontrunner for the post is Sky News's political supremo, Adam Boulton. Says a fellow scribe: "We're not sure why Adam's so bloody keen, but he's telling everyone he wants it. He's welcome!"

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