Editor-At-Large: I'm a leading expert on mothers-in-law. I've had seven...

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The Independent Online

My heart sank read ing the excruciating "open letter" my pal Gordon Ramsay decided to "send" his mother-in-law. This plea from the heart wasn't posted, emailed or sent by special delivery. In typically bombastic style, Gordon issued the document to the press – breaking my number one rule for family disputes – keep them private.

Marital dirty washing should never be done in public. All exchanges between couples and their in-laws usually employ a highly sophisticated code, impenetrable to outsiders. You never say what you mean – everything is couched in double-speak worthy of an episode of Spooks. Gordon, for reasons I can't understand, decided to announce to his mother-in-law he'd got a load of unsavoury information about her husband.

The letter is packed with innuendo about his "very complex life" and "away days". I thought Gordon had public relations people – they must be tearing their hair out. It's easy to understand why he was upset – his long-suffering wife Tana was told by her mother to stay away from the rest of the family after Gordon ruthlessly ejected her dad, Chris Hutcheson, from running his business empire. What's more, Hutcheson's son Adam has been suspended from the company and a nephew sacked.

Yesterday Gordon was back on the front pages, claiming his mother-in-law had told his wife to dump him. Tana and her mother, Greta, are the innocent parties in this mud-slinging. They must be wondering why they have been catapulted into the media spotlight over a dispute between two aggressive men they happen to be married to. Chris has proved to be no shrinking violet either – when told his services were no longer required, he retaliated by giving a highly embarrassing tabloid newspaper interview, implying he knew "where all the bodies are buried". Injunctions, writs, and further revelations can only follow.

Poor Greta and Tana sit at home, miserable, not on speaking terms. Over the years, I've become a world-class expert on mothers-in-law. I'd love to take part in Celebrity Master- mind and make it my specialist subject – if I hadn't been on the show already. I've inherited four mothers-in-law by marriage and three by proxy – living with their sons for a total of 20 years without tying the knot. That makes seven deeply suspicious women I've tried my best to understand and empathise with. On balance, each attempt at harmony has been fraught and littered with recriminations. I could easily work at Acas. The first thing you have to remember about the family you marry into or inherit with your long-term partner, is that they are not your blood relatives. They have absolutely nothing in common with you, except the person you are having sex with. Blood relatives forgive each other all sorts of weird behaviour, childish attitudes and bad manners simply because they are related.

That's a bitter pill to swallow. Quite simply, they're in a club, and even if you marry into it, you're not a fully paid-up member. You've acquired temporary membership, on sufferance. Most importantly, you will never understand their little rituals, the endless repetition of stories from decades ago when you weren't around. Don't even bother to look interested as you hear them for the umpteenth time: they're not bothered whether you feign ignorance or not.

Gordon's wife is very close to her dad, and Gordon has failed to understand that as far as Chris is concerned no bloke would ever be good enough for his daughter. His ghastly "open letter" hints that Chris is no good as a dad, businessman or husband, so Gordon has insulted his wife's family three times over. He's made the fatal mistake of thinking his marriage to Tana is more important than her relationship with her parents. No, it isn't. Every mother-in-law I've encountered thinks she's the most special person in her son's life, and his partner will always be second best. I know that Tana's dad will feel the same – and his wife will concur.

Gordon, never the most subtle of individuals, has messed up big time. The best thing he can do is apologise to Greta in private, and keep quiet for a bit.

Spot Matt Damon and win! Just one small catch...

Barack Obama's slump in popularity is largely due to his failure to turn around the United States economy, and many voters continue to suffer financially. Almost one in five Americans claim there have been times during the last year when they haven't had enough cash to put food on the table. The number of low-income families claiming government help has only declined marginally since peaking in September 2009 – and now Congress wants to impose cuts which could mean the poorest people lose £37 a month.

So it's good to see some high-profile yanks will be sharing in the belt-tightening. The largest actors' union has just completed a new agreement with the Hollywood studios which means actors can no longer travel first class. The union managed to secure its members small pay rises, better health insurance and pension contributions, but had to accept that, on short flights, actors will be in economy, with the rest of us. Business class will only be for trips of more than 1,000 miles, and first class will only be by very special arrangement. The first person who sees George Clooney, Matt Damon or Will Smith sitting in economy will get £50 from me.

Money does grow on trees, after all

Nigel Havers will be adding a touch of class to the antics on I'm a Celebrity – and he has been telling friends that he managed to trouser a whopping £350,000 for his appearance in this year's jungle. I doubt they had to cough up a tenth of that for unemployed former MP and failed stand-up comic Lembit Opik, but I can tell you that Linford Christie, who will be joining them by the campfire when the new series kicks off tonight, always has a clause inserted into his television contracts banning references to his "lunchbox". That might be hard to enforce with motor-mouth Shaun Ryder. And we can only hope Gillian McKeith of You Are What You Eat, won't be talking about lunch when she (inevitably) babbles on interminably about the right diet.

Sleazy is the same in any lingo

Silvio Berlusconi's problems seem to be multiplying by the day. Last week, he was attacked by locals during a visit to L'Aquila, the small town devastated by an earthquake last year. The hapless PM described the situation back then as "like camping", and now residents want to know why he's reneged on promises to rebuild their homes. Placards announced "bunga bunga for you, rubble rubble for us" – a reference to the parties with prostitutes and showgirls Mr Berlusconi seems so fond of. One female participant called them "bunga bunga nights", and I don't think she was talking about dancing the conga.

Another, a 17-year-old dancer, was arrested for theft recently. When Mr Berlusconi's office claimed the girl was the former Egyptian Prime Minister's granddaughter, the magistrate said "if that's true, I'm Queen Nefertiti"!

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