Writer heads for the races with life-of-Brian cash prize

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The Independent Online

* Judges praised Brian Thompson's Keeping Mum, a cheery account of his damaged and bizarre wartime childhood, as an antidote to "misery memoirs" when they awarded him the best biography prize at the Costa book awards.

Thompson's father was an uncharitable, absent, ambitious airman, and his mother a lonely, hated layabout happiest when entertaining GIs. They loathed one another. They saw Brian as a swot but fortune spared him their lowly designs (his mother thought he'd be a model for knitting patterns).

But old friends of the chain-smoking, party-loving writer are only marginally impressed by his acclaim, at the age of 71. "There's a bunch of us at Gloucester Green in Oxford who drink together and bet at the Ladbrokes," Thompson told Pandora in Mayfair's Zeta bar.

"I was telling them about this awards stuff and one asked: 'What's the name of the book?' The others shouted: 'Forget it! What's the name of the horse?' They'll be disappointed I didn't win £30,000 [for book of the year]. They were already deciding how to spend that at the races.

"But I did get £5,000. I'm thinking [of betting on] State of Play. I thought it would run in the Gold Cup but they're talking about the National. I reckon £2,500 each-way at 16/1. Not sure what my partner will think 'o that, though."

He added: "I feel 15 years old. Then I look in the mirror and see a tired old twat. But I don't mind that."

Lighting a cigarette, he inhales and jigs across the room, bobbing his head to the music.

* For all their macho on-stage posturing, Yorkshire rockers the Kaiser Chiefs are not averse to the Beckhamesque charms of metrosexuality.

At Wednesday's Brit Awards, girly parfumier Jo Malone will pamper musicians with aroma-therapy and facial or shoulder massages "to help relax and calm nerves either before or after a performance". (Mmm, sweaty.)

"Yeah, last year we had the Kaiser Chiefs popping in," says a Jo Malone source. "They really liked our spicy citrus scents and said they'd visit the shop in Leeds.

"Pharrell Williams and Timbaland [rapper types] once had facials."

The Kaisers, whose lead singer Ricky Wilson is pictured left, aren't shortlisted this year, but eyebrow-pluckers Oasis are. I'm told performers will be able to transform their dressing rooms with a selection of scented candles, to help create "a home away from home".

Yer big jessies.

* The latest candy-coated offering from chick lit author Sophie Kinsella, Shopaholic & Baby, reached the top of the hardback fiction charts in two days this week. (This frothy tract about a personal shopper whose perfect existence unravels does not, I concede, occupy Pandora's bookshelf.)

Kinsella, 37, born Madeleine Wickham, found out that it had reached No 1 while devouring a steak in Marco Pierre White's Mayfair restaurant, Mirabelle.

"My publisher came and told me," the former finance journalist tells Pandora. "But I was more excited about a wonderful gift they gave me - a 'Denny & George' scarf, pale blue with beads. It's a fictional luxury label I invented for the books. They got it made specially with a label sewn in. Incredible! I nearly cried.

"I wonder what other diners thought."

* Further blood splatterings on the spanking new office carpets at The Daily Telegraph, where it's the turn of the paper's red-faced assassin, "Genghis" Con Coughlin, to take the bullet.

Since Con eased his bounteous buttocks into the grand chair of "executive foreign editor" six months ago, where he was to beef up coverage of world affairs, he has chased off eight overseas reporters. The tyres of his car were slashed, seemingly by local hoodlums.

Telegraph ed Will Lewis has relieved Coughlin of his duties. "He's a playground bully in detention," laughs a colleague.

Hawkish Con, who insisted the war in Iraq be referred to as the "liberation of Iraq", has strong intelligence contacts and will continue to write for the paper. If Bush gets round to invading Iran, he'll be at the front, no doubt.

* Pandora extends a warm welcome to the UK's next man in Bangkok, His Soon-to-be Excellency Mr Quentin Quayle. (Named after the Groucho Marx character?)

Word has it at our Thai embassy - which leaks faster than a broken-down, turkey carcass-carrying lorry - that the former ambassador to Romania will arrive in the summer. A Foreign Office spokeswoman comments: "It hasn't been announced yet so we can't say anything about it, I'm afraid."

In light of our Bangkok embassy's recent "Dildogate" scandal, in which a female staff member used the diplomatic bag to transport a sex toy - a clear breach of protocol, London fumed - I shall take the liberty of ordering Mr Quayle a greeting present. A pink "Rampant Rabbit Thriller", batteries included, will shortly cross the globe.

pandora@independent.co.uk

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