Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary (06/02/11)

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One is the Mayor of Rome; the other is Boris Johnson. Between them, they preside over the two greatest cities in the world. And to cement this bond, I understand Gianni Alemanno plans to give the mayor of London a life-size statue of his city's most famous resident – Julius Caesar. The city of Rome has commissioned the celebrated American sculptor J Seward Johnson to create a statue of the Roman emperor, who was murdered on the Ides of March. The artist, a scion of the Johnson & Johnson talc dynasty, is well-known for his life-size bronze statues, which are castings of real people. This might pose a problem when it comes to Caesar, who died more than two millennia ago.

Has turmoil in Egypt given Colonel Gaddafi the jitters? Last week the London-based novelist Hisham Matar received the wonderful news that two of his uncles have been released from prison in Libya, 21 years after their imprisonment. The author of the Booker-shortlisted In the Country of Men has spent two decades campaigning for the release of his uncles, who were arrested on vague charges of plotting to overthrow Gaddafi's regime. They were among 12 prisoners freed last Thursday. "We have suffered for so long," says Matar, "This is such a rare moment of joy. We are just enjoying the moment privately." The question remains: what happened to Matar's father, who was kidnapped in Cairo in 1990? "This news has given me hope that they might now confirm my father's fate."

Raise a cocktail shaker to Zsa Zsa Gabor, who turns 94 today. The Hungarian beauty has been in hospital lately with gangrene, after having a leg amputated, and now faces a fresh headache. For I can disclose that her only daughter, Francesca Hilton, is poised to embark on a legal action against Frederic Prince Von Anhalt, Zsa Zsa's current – and seventh – husband. Von Anhalt has announced he plans to sell Zsa Zsa's Bel Air mansion, to pay for her medical bills. But Hilton, the product of marriage number two, to the hotelier Conrad, believes the house is her rightful inheritance. An asking price of $28m has been set, although the 1950s bungalow looks like an architect's impression of a Big Mac. It may seem a lot, but you do get Zsa Zsa and the prince thrown in – a condition of sale is that she can stay until she dies.

David Dimbleby is the latest BBC staffer to throw a hissy fit over plans to move out of London. In Manchester, where the ludicrous Salford Quays "media city" is being built, the sale of the existing studios at Oxford Road is putting some noses out of joint. My man in the sound gallery says a lot of snazzy equipment bought at vast expense in recent months will be surplus to requirements and is going to be left behind. A spokesman explains: "The equipment currently in Oxford Road will either be re-allocated for use in other BBC departments across the UK or – if it has reached its natural end – will be suitably disposed of." The current 5.4 acre site, which houses 800 of the corporation employees, including Radio 2's Mark Radcliffe, was put up for sale in September, although a buyer has yet to be found.

Bonnets off to James Harding, the 41-year-old editor of The Times, who has become a father. His wife, Kate Weinberg, gave birth to a son, Samuel Ray, on Thursday. As the newspaper of record, it was only appropriate that The Times should make space for the happy news , though it got only the briefest of notices in yesterday's Register.





Can it be true? Excited chatter on the Ferrero Rocher circuit in Kabul includes a new possible name for the post of US ambassador – one Richard Armitage. No wonder they're in a tizz – the 65-year-old 'Nam veteran was the muscular number two at the state department during 9/11. He was said to have leaked the name of Valerie Plame in the Nigergate affair, and warned Pakistan that the US would bomb the country "back to the Stone Age" if it continued to back the Taliban. Our man in Kabul, Sir William Patey, has already proved a big hit; together, they could make quite a double act.

So, the Queen has watched The King's Speech, at a private screening at Sandringham, and has given her Royal approval. Might she now be tempted to watch Never Let Me Go, the film of Kazuo Ishiguro's novel, which will be out this Friday? A Buckingham Palace spokesman declines to comment on the monarch's entertainment schedule, but it's not so far-fetched: one of the few novels we know she has read is Ishiguro's other great novel, The Remains of the Day. Alan Bennett brilliantly imagined the Queen developing a passion for novels in his story, The Reader. Might she now acquire a taste for the big screen?

m.bell@independent.co.uk

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