Soames, bin Laden and a rather Taki piece of journalism

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The Independent Online

Sir Nicholas Soames and the Duke of Beaufort are both wealthy men with reputations to protect, so it would take a brave man to accuse them of sponsoring Islamic terrorists.

The Spectator did just that last week, though, in a High Life column written by Taki.

Discussing the recent death of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, Taki digressed into a tale about Osama bin Laden, above right, claiming Sir Nicholas and the Duke once offered the terrorist membership of White's, London's smartest gentleman's club: "Apparently, both the Duke of Beaufort and Nicholas Soames are in trouble with the club, because neither has apologised for sponsoring [Bin Laden] as a member."

It's quite a tale, but one Sir Nicholas, above left, insists is a product of Taki's imagination. "This is a ridiculous, so-called joke," he says. "At least, it's intended to be, though it may not be such a joke at the present time. There's nothing I intend to do about it, except kick Taki in the shins next time I see him."

White's Club is rather angrier about the whole thing. "Mr Bin Laden's name has never even been in our members' book," it says. "I've no idea why The Spectator published this rubbish, but it makes things very difficult for the club."

* Macho though motor-racing undoubtedly is, Amanda Stretton will stop at nothing to achieve sexual equality within the sport.

In a bid to lead an all-women team - the first in modern history - at Le Mans next year, the comely TV presenter has forced her husband, Bob, to have a vasectomy.

It follows an unfortunate incident last year, when Stretton, left, was forced to pull out of the 24-hour race, after accidentally falling pregnant.

"My husband's gone off and had the chop; that's how seriously we're taking this," she tells me. "I wouldn't mind another child, but unless I go and get myself into real trouble that isn't going to happen, so I'm free to concentrate on racing."

Stretton's bid to qualify for the prestigious event begins at Silverstone this weekend, where she competes in a 1,000 km practice race.

"It's about feminism," she adds. "But not in a burn-your-bra sense; more in an way of saying 'don't ignore us women'."

* Richard E Grant is shortly to release Wah-Wah, an autobiographical film about his childhood in Swaziland. Ominously, it looks like the pet project - first disclosed by this column - will annoy students of African history. For Grant, right, admits that his plot is riddled with historical inaccuracies.

In one scene, set in the early 1970's, he depicts Princess Margaret visiting the country, a trip that did not take place until 10 years later. "The historical liberties that were taken were necessitated by the three-year time scale of the screenplay, from 1969-1972," he says. "Swaziland's independence, for example, was granted in 1968, so I have taken historical license."

The Swazi High Commission was closed for business when I called yesterday. But I wonder if they'll take kindly to a film actor and diarist messing around with national history, in order to make a film about himself.

* Last week, I wrote of the PR campaign surrounding Princess Beatrice's cover shoot for this month's Tatler magazine. My piece said that syndication rights to the pictures were being sold to newspapers and magazines for £5,000 by an agency called Lickerish, which was appointed by the Duchess of York.

The Duchess of York's PR firm, Sputnik, has got in touch to point out that Lickerish was, in fact, appointed by Tatler's publisher, Condé Nast, with the Duchess's approval.

In order to avoid a trip to the Tower, I must stress that Fergie did not personally profit from the deal: half of the £5,000 fee went to the dyslexia charity Springboard, the other half went to Condé Nast and its photographer.

'Umblest apologies to all concerned!

* Like many a visitor to Edinburgh, Sharleen Spiteri - the lead singer of Texas - has experienced a jolly run-in with the natives.

Leaving a record-signing last week, Spiteri was alarmed to come across a gentleman who had collapsed in the street. She immediately instructed a member of her "entourage" to call an ambulance.

Unfortunately - but not entirely surprisingly - they soon discovered that the chap was not injured, but rather a little bit drunk.

"I was trying to tell the ambulance folk he might be dying," she says. "But then he wakes up and feels my backside twice."

Spitieri was bought up north of the border. For my money, she should be better-acquainted with the local customs.

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