Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary (04/07/10)

Digging deeper than Nadal

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Has Ann Widdecombe ruled herself out as the next ambassador to the Vatican? The Catholic ex-MP is being tipped for the post, and is said to have William Hague's blessing. But, talking to a local paper in the West Country, she said the idea was "complete nonsense". When I ring to clarify her comments she says, "This story is all speculation, and I don't want to add to the speculation." Asked if she wants the job, she replies tersely, "I've said all I want to. I really think you ought to wait and see." Like many Catholic converts, Widdecombe is zealous in her faith, and some friends call her "Popessa". But when she retired from Parliament in May she said all she wanted to do was watch Countdown.


What next for S4C, the catchily named Welsh-language television station propped up by government subsidies? According to figures elicited by Labour MP John Mann, whereas 58 per cent of viewers tuned in in 2000, only 21 per cent did so last year. At the same time, government funding has soared from £75.1m in 2000 to £98.4m in 2009. Before the election, the Tories promised not to cut the Welsh budget until 2011. Might these figures prompt a rethink?

It's been a mixed week for underdogs, but novelist Rowan Somerville has enjoyed a mini-triumph over his publishers. Somerville was horrified by the cover of his latest book, The Shape of Her, which Weidenfeld insisted should be a photo of a slinky young woman in a bikini. "It seemed to me an outdated sexist image," he rails, "addressing women as a sexual shape – when, in fact, the book was about sexuality; male and female, about sex, about desire and about abuse." But instead of whingeing, he took matters into his own hands and knocked up an alternative cover, using a picture by Tracey Emin who, on hearing his plight, immediately gave her permission to go ahead. These he wrapped around a hundred copies, of which he promptly sold 73 at the launch. Andrea Dworkin would be proud.

News that an inquiry is to be launched into alleged British complicity in torture is welcomed by Craig Murray, the former ambassador to Uzbekistan. He claims he was the only senior civil servant to submit a written objection to what he alleges was a policy of complicity. But the FCO is already fighting "a vicious rearguard action", he says, "to ensure that any government inquiry excludes my evidence and does not consider whether there was a policy of complicity with torture. Rather, the security services wish it only to look at individual cases such as Binyam Mohamed and assess compensation for them. The cover-up that these individual cases were accidents would be maintained."

The Spectator's summer party maintained its tradition of attracting newly elected leaders – even Gordon Brown went in 2007 – with Posh and Cleggs turning up for an orange juice. George Osborne lurked three steps behind, apparently happy in his new role of third wheel. Chief spin-doctor Andy Coulson stayed for over an hour, seen at one point in deep conversation with Lord Ashcroft. But despite the heavyweight guest list, there were plenty of drunks for the bouncers to clear out by the end, another Speccy tradition. "I cut the guest list by 40 per cent," said editor Fraser Nelson, which made access to the bar easier than ever before.

In her movies, Goldie Hawn is as good at doing funny as she is serious, but in real life she appears not to know which is which. Speaking at a dinner before last Wednesday's auction of the 250 model elephants that have decorated London's streets recently, she told how she came to get involved with saving elephants, on a trip to India in 1987. "This is my journey," she began, before telling a frankly ludicrous story of how she fell in love with a baby elephant called Belly Button. "I looked in her eyes, and I fell madly in love," she said, without a whiff of irony. "Her mother was blind but was protecting her. I nearly broke down. This is how we need to live as humans, I thought. I'm going to write a children's book about it!" But of course.


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