Matthew Bell: Edinburgh diary

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The Independent Online

They should have seen it coming. The French consulate in Edinburgh was gamely responsive to an invitation to attend the premiere of 'Up the Republic!', a political comedy set in Paris. But after the deputy consul, Corinne Fauveau-Schydlowsky, had sat through the play, featuring a priapic dwarfish Sarkozy and involving much chasing round desks, she stormed out of the theatre, calling the play "insulting". "I had no intention of causing any kind of incident," says Max McGuinness, the author of the play, which is entirely in rhyming couplets. Molière would have been proud.

Are celebrities giving up on relationships with humans? The talk of Edinburgh has been Britt Ekland's new-found companion, Tequila, a five-year-old Chihuahua she describes as the "man in her life" in her one-woman show, see page 41. But it's not just Swedish ex-Bond girls who have turned to dogs for friendship. Orlando Bloom's plus one at Tracey Emin's party last week was Sidi, a young black Labrador bitch. Bloom was in town to see his sister Samantha's show. Sidi Bloom looked particularly fetching in a red Gstaad collar.

Jeremy Paxman was once reduced to tears when he visited the Glasgow tenement where his ancestors lived. Now Jonathan Dimbleby has had his own wobbly lip moment, while speaking at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Dimbleby fought back a tear as he read from his own book 'Russia: A journey to the heart of a land and its people', in which he recalled visiting the site of the Beslan massacre. Dimbleby told anecdotes of his gruelling 10,000-mile journey through Russia, although he admitted he had made return trips to England during the process, to see his new wife and baby. He said: "It was conceived during this process, and born during this process." TMI, anyone?

Speaking after Dimbleby at the Edinburgh Book Festival was Iain Banks, who becomes Iain M Banks when he writes science fiction. Asked whether he might drop the "M" now that it is well-known he is one and the same person, Banks conceded he might, although he hastily added he might equally insert it permanently. But Banks was less well-prepared when one science-fiction fan piped up with a question: "Lots of characters in your books change their sex – is this some kind of wish fulfilment?" "Um, er, yes, maybe," said Banks, to gales of laughter.

Andrew Neil, until recently chief exec of the publisher of the 'Spectator', Press Holdings, and now chairman of the PFD agency, has been inexplicably absent from the festival for the past few years. One Edinburgh aesthete says that for all his willingness to celebrate things Scottish, the eminence orange of the 'Spec' tends to give the city – let alone the festival – a wide berth. Last month he appointed Emap's Ben Greenish to take over day-to-day running of the mag, which under Neil's stewardship has enjoyed a 5 per cent yearly circulation boost. Greenish will have been pleased to note the current success of the classified pages, but he will need to take a view on the "health classifieds", which might not be to the liking of all the magazine's more conservative readers. The current issue carries 13 ads for massage therapists, ranging from "Lana's tantric massage/ Swedish: young or mature masseuse", to "Air hostess has occasional time to relieve jet-lag". Ooh la la!

As a stickler for original research, Stalin biographer Simon Sebag Montefiore spent much time visiting the former Soviet dictator's several homes when writing his book 'Young Stalin'. Anxious not to be outdone by another historian – he shares a field with heavyweights such as Antony Beevor – Montefiore wanted to find details that others might have overlooked. But alas, he told an audience at Edinburgh, he was not the first to beat such a path – at one of Stalin's villas he discovered that he was following in the footsteps of no less a fan of Stalin than Saddam Hussein. Saddam reportedly visited every one of Stalin's homes during the 1970s.

Everything's possible at the Edinburgh Festival, not least the crushing of great expectations. When an usher at the Assembly Rooms announced "this queue for Simon Callow" one woman rushed over in a state of excitement which was, some might say, disproportionate to the allure of the actor, splendid as he was in 'Four Weddings and a Funeral'. It seems she had got her Simons in a muddle and was entering the hysteria usually reserved for 'X- Factor' judge Simon Cowell. Bemused, she returned, saying, "He's performing Dickens, apparently."

m.bell@independent.co.uk

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