News Arms deals fixer Ziad Takieddine has been refused entry to Britain

A controversial fixer for arms deals linked to an alleged corruption scandal that engulfed Nicolas Sarkozy has been refused entry to Britain.

Sitting pretty: The idea that sent Cath Kidson from one shop to a global chain

Today, Cath Kidston's iconic floral prints and affordable household items, that lend more than a nod to the trend for vintage chic, appear in must-have lists and households across the world. Her empire spans 28 shops and concessions in the UK, two shops in the Republic of Ireland and five in Japan. The brand has beaten the odds in the economic downturn with profits rising in the past year from £2.9m to £4.6m. And with sales now reaching £31.3m, she clearly has a head for retail. These figures belie the brand's humble beginnings in a small shop in London's Holland Park.

Kat'a Kabanová, Opera Holland Park, London<br></br>BBC Proms PCM2, 15 &amp; 16, Cadogan Hall / Royal Albert Hall, London

A Jan&#225;cek opera is wonderfully sung, played and staged, Graham and Martineau get cheesy, and a 'Firebird' shows off its spectacular plummage

Un ballo in maschera, Opera Holland Park, London

The last thing you need is a voiceless tenor on opening night of Verdi's troubled political thriller Un Ballo in Maschera. The pivotal role of Gustavus III, assassinated at a masked ball in the Royal Opera House, Stockholm, in 1792, has been much beloved of big stars throughout its chequered history. Rafael Rojas is hardly that but David Rendall has been and together they rescued a near-disaster, Rendall singing from the pit, Rojas moving and mouthing furiously on stage.

Un ballo in maschera, Opera Holland Park, London<br/>Proms 5 &amp; 6, Royal Albert Hall, London<br/>Orpheus and Euridice, Blackheath Halls, London

A scandal rocks Washington in Verdi's drama of politics and betrayal - but one bold addition in Martin Lloyd-Evans's production doesn't smack of the truth

Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Opera Holland Park, London

The last thing you need is a voiceless tenor on opening night of Verdi’s troubled political thriller Un ballo in maschera.

La Boh&egrave;me, Opera Holland Park, London<br>Aldeburgh Festival, Snape Maltings, Suffolk<br>A Midsummer Night's Dream, Britten Theatre, London

Opera Holland Park's passionate 'Boh&egrave;me' dares to be unsentimental, unfussy and sincere

H&#228;nsel and Gretel, Opera Holland Park, London

Here's a first. As the sweetly atmospheric prelude fades away, the stillness is rudely shattered by the abrasive wail of an air-raid siren sounding the all-clear. Two gas-masked faces peep around a gigantic door. It sits at the centre of sinister, charcoal-drawn walls depicting the forbidding forest beyond. We are in wartime, for sure, a time of fear and austerity and rationing, but whether in Germany or dear old Blighty (there are resonances of both and the sung language is German, of course) is pretty much irrelevant to Stephen Barlow's wittily effective staging. What matters to Hänsel and Gretel is that it's a strange world to be growing up in.

Roberto Devereux, Opera Holland Park, London

One by one, the country-house opera companies are laying out their wares, each with its unique selling point. For me, Opera Holland Park's USP is partly horticultural – the Kyoto Garden, so idyllic a piece of Japan that you can hardly believe you're in London – and partly anti-operatic, in that the open-air stage is invaded by a gentle cacophony of birds, dogs, children, aeroplanes, and traffic sounds. But the company's raison d'être lies in adventurous programming, coupled with an ability to pull in some outstanding voices – and on both counts the opening show scored high.

First among unequals: Meet the most powerful person in Britain

A year ago, Mr Mandelson was all washed-up. Now, he's the First Secretary, and holds the key to No 10 and, guess what, Peter has acquired a lot of new friends

H&#228;nsel und Gretel, Holland Park, London<br>Eliogabalo, Grange Park, Hampshire<br>Roberto Devereux, Holland Park, London

Packing the kids off to the woods for berries makes sense in Holland Park's wartime opera fairytale

Opera podcast - Peacocks and prima donnas

Michael Volpe - General Manager of Opera Holland Park - reminisces with Edward Seckerson about his 20 years of bringing grand opera to W8.

Michael McCarthy: The grass is greener on the other side

Nature Notebook: Great Nature is still visible in view of the heartless towers if you look hard enough

Dick Gilbert: Painter inspired by the landscape and coastline of Cornwall

The painter Dick Gilbert belonged to a coterie of Cornish-born and -bred artists who proved a visually distinctive minority within the mid-century St Ives "school". These included Peter Lanyon, Michael Canney, Margo Maeckelberghe, the potter William Marshall and before them the naive painters Alfred Wallis and Mary Jewels. Though the irresistible Cornish landscape and haunting genius loci provided overriding source material for virtually all Cornish modern artists it is not easy to identify a single or coherent stylistic complexion unique to this native enclave other than an emotional and frequently expressive semi-abstract landscape painting and an improvisatory or makeshift approach to the materials closest to hand.

Average home price falls &pound;100 a day

The average UK home is losing value at a rate of £100 per day and more than £1 trillion has been wiped off the housing market in the past year, a survey has revealed.

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Independent Travel
Burgundy, the River Rhone & Provence – Five-star MS Swiss Corona 7 nights from £999pp
Lake Como St Moritz & the Bernina Express 7 nights from £809pp
Vietnam
Lake Maggiore, Orta & the Matterhorn 7 nights from £939pp
South Africa
Spain
Prices correct as of 19 December 2014
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month