Captain Moonlight's Notebook

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FROM Paris comes news of another Rushdie controversy, this time involving the Prince of Wales. Bernard-Henri Levy, France's best-known chauffeur-driven philosopher and staunch defender of Rushdie, is not tied by the British convention of not reporting royal conversations.

In his magazine, La Regle du Jeu, he has written about a lunch he attended with the heir to the throne on 4 December as Prince Charles was on his way to south-western France for a weekend painting watercolours.

According to Mr Levy, who made a name for himself in the Seventies when, with two other nouveaux philosophes, he challenged the French left's post-war flirtation with Soviet communism, the prince delivered a judgement on the author of The Satanic Verses.

'He said that he was a bad writer, which is his right,' Mr Levy wrote. 'But he added that he costs too much to the taxpayer which struck me as a bit steep. So I let slip this reply: 'And the Crown of England? Have you never asked yourself how much the bloody Crown of England costs the taxpayer?' ' The republican Mr Levy does not record Mr Charles Windsor's reaction.

Mr Levy is a handsome man of the prince's age. He is part of Francois Mitterrand's court and is credited with inspiring the French president's visit to Sarajevo in June last year. More recently, he organised - behind the backs of the diplomats at the Quai d'Orsay - talks between Alija Izetbegovic, the Bosnian president, and Mr Mitterrand just as the Geneva peace talks were opening.

Captain Moonlight last came across the philosopher wearing a flak jacket in the UN headquarters in Sarajevo two weeks ago. He was worried that a message about 'undesirable elements' from unknown sources (more likely Serbian than Buckingham Palace) to Bernard Kouchner, the gung-ho French Minister of Humanitarian Action in whose plane Mr Levy was flying, could have been a reference to himself.

(Photograph omitted)