Inauguration Diary: Fat cats and false notes

THERE WERE a few glitches at Monday's dress rehearsal of the Presidential Gala held last night. The sound system went briefly and Barbra Streisand's voice cracked on a high note at the end of a love ballad, Evergreen. She covered it by thanking Mr Clinton for making 'having a hoarse voice fashionable again'.

Otherwise it was flawless dazzle, including Jack Lemmon, Michael Jackson (paler than ever), Goldie Hawn (her Dad played the saxophone at every inaugural from FDR to Carter), Warren Beatty, Aretha Franklin and Herbie Hancock. Jack Nicholson stepped on stage clutching shades and a bottle of Evian, but tactfully withdrew when the whoops of the crowd threatened to drown out the act in progress - a sober reading by Lemmon of historical soundbites of presidents past.

Barbra seemed puzzled when her delivery of a saccharine eulogy of the incoming President - 'I'm thankful for your health, your stamina and your joy in the work before you' - drew loud giggling. 'What's funny about that?' she asked. She was unable to see monitors showing a less than convincing stand-in couple, with Hillary portrayed by a man with a beard.

Aretha, meanwhile, has become the target of the politically correct brigade offended by a mink coat she wore for the 'American Reunion' outdoor concert on Sunday. That is not how Democrats are meant to dress. There have been mutterings too about a ball held at Union Station in honour of James Carville, Mr Clinton's fiery campaign manager from Louisiana, known as the Ragin' Cajun. The lavish buffet featured large alligator skulls biting into plates of spicy alligator sausage. Waiters replenishing the tables flapped alligator jaw-bones in the faces of the revellers. A spokesman for the Ethical Treatment of Animals was unimpressed. 'Exotic meats are a little extreme, a little beyond defensible by taste or culture,' he said. Mr Carville has invited his critics for a rare steak dinner at the Palm Restaurant.

There has been aggravation too for the great and the grand lodged for the week at the Mayflower Hotel, next door to the Independent office. Five men dressed as 'Fat Cats', with tails, whiskers, pot-bellies and cigars, raucously picketed yesterday against the role of big money in Mr Clinton's rise to power. 'The Best President Money Can Buy' said their placards. Their disgust was doubtless fuelled by revelations that 13 out of his 18 cabinet members are former lawyer-lobbyists. The big corporations, meanwhile, are greasing palms by bridging a huge deficit in the inauguration budget. USAir is flying hundreds of guests to Washington free. Chrysler, General Motors and Ford are providing 500 cars. Motorola has donated 500 cellular phones, 900 walkie-talkies and 200 pagers for staff. Bloomingdales is outfitting selected ball guests in black-tie attire. Sadly, the store has not offered to smarten up your diarist for the big one tonight.

Among the many riding the new Washington broom to fortune are the owners of a new restaurant on Capital Hill, Slick Willie's. The speciality is a 'Big Willie' burger. They insist there is nothing obscene about the dish - a simple beef patty with a double helping of cheese. They are waiting for Bill to drop by.

Making money from a presidential accession can be a family affair. Jimmy Carter's brother, Billy, sold a brand of beer named after him and offered his services as a consultant to Libya. Then there was the Reagan daughter, Patti Davis, who pocketed dosh from a book about living with parental abuse. Now it's the turn of Bill Clinton's half-brother, Roger. Kept out of view during the election - he has had drug and alcohol problems - he is due tonight to appear with his rock band, Politics, at the MTV Rock and Roll Inaugural Ball. He is reported to have signed a dollars 200,000 ( pounds 130,000) contract with Atlantic Records and hopes to charge dollars 10,000 for making speeches.

Mr Bush has been carrying out his last-minute business in spartan surroundings. Our moles in the White House report that the Oval Office and other rooms of state have been stripped bare and the painters are giving the whole interior a new coat. The last entry in the Bushes' official diary is coffee with the new First Couple at 10.15 this morning, before riding with them by limo to Capitol Hill for Bill's swearing in. The Bushes then depart for Andrews Air Force Base and a last flight aboard the presidential jumbo to their new home in Houston. And thus, this afternoon George joins that exclusive club of retired US presidents along with Ronny, Jimmy, Gerald and Richard.

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