The night George lost it all

PEOPLE

There are a number of theories as to why George Bush lost the 1992 presidential election but the most plausible is the simplest. The American public could not live with a leader who threw up in the lap of his host, in full view of the television cameras, as Mr Bush did so memorably in January of that year, delivering the contents of his stomach with minimal ceremony into the trousers of the Japanese Prime Minister of the time, Kiichi Miyazawa.

It is understandable that both the Japanese and Mr Bush's successor were terrified of a repeat performance on Wednesday night, when Bill Clinton was guest of honour at the Imperial Palace. To ensure that, should the worst happen, the world would this time not know about it, the Japanese authorities insisted that pre-positioned television cameras be turned off, turned away from the tables and aligned parallel with the wall.

Two weeks ago we drew attention to the uncanny resemblance between the pronouncements of a Bulgarian soothsayer named Granny Vanga and those of our Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke. The evidence of Mr Clarke's consultations with the blind octogenarian was limited at the time to some telling echoes of the old lady's vague optimism in Mr Clarke's statements.

This week, however, in a move that can only fuel speculation, Mr Clarke went to Sofia. The pretext was to attend the annual meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. But he took the opportunity while there to address the vexed question of Britain's participation in European monetary union.

It was, he said, "perfectly possible that Britain might be a participant in economic and monetary union". The words could have fallen from Granny's own lips. The suggestion of certainty in the word "perfectly", immediately undermined by the word "possible", then squashed with the word "might": those other politicians who visit Granny for guidance would surely recognise her style. But these suspicions should not bring shame on the Chancellor. If it was Granny Vanga who gave Mr Clarke the confidence to stand by his"hunches" and keep interest rates down in the face of Eddie George's economic "wisdom", perhaps we should be thankful he is so open to advice from unconventional quarters.

Nicoletta Mantovani, talking in an interview this week about the early days of her relationship with Luciano Pavarotti, complained: "At the beginning we had a lot of problems because I was bored to death by listening to opera."

Ms Mantovani has just supplanted Adua, the tenor's partner in a marriage that was 9 years old when Nicoletta was born. In the days Nicoletta referred to, the relationship was supposedly one of secretary and employer. What kinds of problems was she talking about? Did she threaten not to type his letters unless he sang a few rock numbers? Was he driven mad by ringing telephones, which were magically answered once he agreed to make a record with U2?

Whatever happened at the beginning, however, everything has worked out in the end. "The last year was hell ... because I don't like to tell lies," she was quoted as saying. "Since the truth has been revealed I'm happy."

James Roberts

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