Diary

`Biographer tells all' shock

Just why did Carol Thatcher write the biography of her father? Easy, confided Lord Deedes at yesterday's Foyles literary lunch, which he chaired to honour Miss T. "My theory", he said, "is that Carol wrote the book because she felt her father ought not to be known only by the Dear Bill letters in Private Eye."

Not an unreasonable assumption. And as the eponymous recipient of the correspondence, he should know. Unfortunately, in the next two hours I watched Miss T and her father destroy his theory. One hundred or so of the Home Counties' best blue rinse had gathered at the Grosvenor House Hotel to learn who the man behind the gin-soaked buffer of the 19th hole really is. His daugher rose in a post-lunch flush to tell all - and when she sat down, we were not one jot the wiser.

"Denis and gin go together like Imelda Marcos and shoes," she declared. "In fact, when he was in Marseilles during the war, he had a go at making the stuff. He mixed it up in the bath, and a mouthful nearly blew his head off! That was easily solved - he turned on the taps and watered it down. You've never watered a drink down since, have you, Dad? Ha-ha-ha."

Carol's abiding memory of Denis in Number 10, we learned, was of him "pouring strong ones for anyone who needed it", and in moments of crisis his voice would boom along the corridors of power: "Let's get relaxed!"

Denis, true to form, sat through this portrait of a benign and befuddled chap, smiling and sipping - and saying not a word. Precisely, in fact, the Denis of Dear Bill letters. Not that the blue rinse brigade seemed to mind, especially the ladies who after seeing Denis Thatcher and Lord Deedes asked me which was which.

Judge a book by...

I fear I must add to the embarrassment of the women-only Orange Prize for fiction after two of the judges, the reviewer Val Hennessy and the novelist Susan Hill, were widely quoted as damning the general standard of entries. Ms Hennessy said: "I have seldom come across so many books that were so bad. Some were just drivel." Ms Hill added: "I have to be a bit careful, but I think I can say I thought the quality of entries was abysmal, terrible." The prize's administrator, Kate Mosse, sees male conspiracy in this. The male journalist who wrote the original piece left out everything positive, she complained yesterday.

I asked the said male journalist whether he was a sexist pig, whether he was one of those who thought it odd and patronising to instigate the prize in a year when women had won both the Booker and the Whitbread. Far from it. "I am not against the prize at all," he told me. "I didn't even ask the two judges whether they thought the general standard was poor. They both came straight out and told me. I was amazed."

It is interesting that both Ms Hennessy and Ms Hill, with exactly the same phrase, regretted "that trees had to be cut down" for some books. Almost as if it was the very phrase used at the judges' meeting.

Presidential seat

A week is a long time in easy-to-assemble furniture. An unlikely confrontation between the Russians and the Swedes is taking place in Paris, on the subject of an advertising campaign by the Swedish furniture store Ikea. To advertise the opening of a new store to the east of Paris - it already had stores to the north, west and south - Ikea used a big photograph of Mikhail Gorbachev, accompanied by the words: "Everything is changing quickly in the east" and the date of the new store's opening. A further poster, also with Gorbachev's photograph, says: "In the east everything is now just the same as in the west."

After approaches from the Russian embassy, Ikea has had to issue a disclaimer, stressing that the posters were not construed in any way as part of the Russian presidential election campaign, in which Mr Gorbachev will be a candidate.

Down Mexico way

Why was Sir James Goldsmith given a happy 20-minute slot on Breakfast with Frost on Sunday? Could it be anything to do with the fact that David Frost had spent the Easter break chez Goldsmith at his Xanadu-style mansion in Mexico?

Money for old coke

I'm pleased to see that the EastEnders actress Daniella Westbrook has rectified the appalling tabloid slur that she spent pounds 100,000 on cocaine. The 22-year-old who plays Sam, a barmaid, tells the May edition of Loaded magazine: "It was my money and not even the pounds 100,000 that was reported, it was closer to pounds 50,000 ... The most I ever spent in an evening was pounds 600." That's a relief. For a moment there I thought the publicly funded BBC might be overpaying its soap opera starlets.

Eagle Eye

Publicists who need the occasional prompt

Something seems to have gone awry with the publicity material for the opening of the Minerva Theatre season at Chichester next month. The opening production will be the world premiere of Simply Disconnected by Simon Gray. The producer will be Duncan Weldon. The leaflets mention Gray's work of yesteryear, Otherwise Engaged, but unusually, there is no mention at all of his last theatrical outing, which also had Weldon as producer. Is it being written out of theatrical history? Just so Chichester patrons are up to speed with Gray's oeuvre, I can remind them what the publicity material forgot: his last work was Cell Mates, starring Stephen Fry (above) - though not, alas, for very long.

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