THIS HAS been a period of severe withdrawal pains for those of us who were addicted to Michael Cole (below). From his persuasive appearances on television to his swishing rebuttal letters to the Spectator, we've had to go "Cole turkey" since the former spokesman for Mohamed Al-Fayed retired two weeks ago. He abruptly cut off all his old telephone and fax lines when he quit the chintz-covered executive offices on Harrods fifth floor and disappeared into the PR hell of anonymity. Some said he had gone abroad, destination unknown. But Pandora has learned that the PR maestro is definitely in this country. A source with access to the Fayed inner sanctum says that Cole received a lucrative pounds 1m farewell package and is currently entertaining an offer to teach corporate communications at Harvard University next year. It's difficult not to be envious of those lucky Ivy Leaguers. How enriching it would be to learn the art of spin- doctoring from the man who, when referring to the non-existent nurse who heard Princess Diana's last words, coined the irrefutable phrase: "He [Mr Fayed] was approached by someone with good reason not to be identified."
CLARE SHORT, Minister for Overseas Development, went "on leave" Friday. It is rare for any minister to take an official "leave" when Parliament is in session. Was she ill? Was there some other problem? No, she was merely going off to spend three days with her family, including her long- lost son. One year ago, how many ministers would have declared an official "leave" just to go away for a family weekend? As far as Pandora is concerned, this is a refreshing example of what politically correct behaviour ought to mean. "She's been planning it for some time," said her office.
IT'S FAR too early to judge the new Sunday Business, Andrew Neil's pink paper for "the first day of the working week" launched five weeks ago. The informal consensus seems to be fine design, good writing, but a shortage of important stories. Perhaps it was to rectify this impression with the punters that page two of yesterday's SB carried a banner boasting of "breaking important financial news that our rivals have to follow".
Of the six so-called "scoops", Pandora took exception to three. The SB claims to have broken the story about David Montgomery's wish to sell Mirror Group shares in this newspaper on 1 March, but this was hardly news. See, for example, John Diamond in the 21 January Evening Standard: "Monty, it's pretty certain, wants to sell". Regarding the SB's claimed 1 March scoop about Tan Sri Khoo's wish to sell his 15 per cent in Standard Chartered, we carried that story in the Independent on 23 February. Finally, the SB's claimed 8 March scoop about Granada and Littlewoods forming a TV shopping joint venture was long preceded by an Independent story of 4 February that said, "Littlewoods is trying to assemble a consortium of retailers to run a TV channel."
White House Willey
THIS WEEK is cutting up even rougher than usual for President Bill Clinton. Last night, American television broadcast an outlandish 40-minute interview with Kathleen Willey, the widow of a former Clinton friend and associate, who was allegedly groped in the White House. Even more ominous, yesterday the New York Post broke the story of yet another young White House intern due to testify in front of the Washington grand jury later this week. Despite all of Hollywood's efforts to ride piggyback on the scandal, films like Wag The Dog and Primary Colors can't compete with the bizarre reality. The name of this new 24-year-old former intern is Sherrie Densuk.