Top French honour for Blair's foe Pinter

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Oh, to have been a fly on the wall at the French ambassador's residence last night. Dominique de Villepin, the French Prime Minister, the scourge of the British Government over the war on Iraq, was there to decorate Harold Pinter, the Nobel Prize- winner for literature who has described Tony Blair as a "deluded idiot".

The 76-year-old playwright, actor and political activist made the short journey from his Holland Park home to the residence in Kensington Palace Gardens to be awarded France's top honour, the Légion d'Honneur.

Pinter told The Independent he considered the award as a "great compliment... I don't know what the Prime Minister will say, but I look forward to meeting him."

In the event, M. Villepin, a published author himself who held talks with Tony Blair earlier in the day, paid tribute to Pinter as "a man who knows the importance of words. For words can change lives."

The French were playing it safe last night by banning reporters from the event, and stressing that Pinter had not been chosen because of his anti-war views. "It's to honour the artist - the writer and the person who is politically engaged, the intellectual," said an embassy spokesman.

Pinter, who received the Nobel Prize in 2005, was made a Companion of Honour by the Queen in 2002 for services to literature. He has now become a chevalier (knight) of the Légion d'Honneur, the lowest rung of the ladder to civilian glory in France.

The British writer John Le Carré was similarly awarded the Légion d'Honneur by the French ambassador, GérardErrera, in November 2005.