Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary (10/04/11)

The Ballabriggs of the social steeplechase

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Samantha Cameron has committed her first gaffe since becoming an ambassador for British fashion.

In what could be seen as a snub to British fashion houses, she was photographed last week using French luggage, while catching a plane to Malaga. She and the PM were snapped with two holdalls by the chic label Longchamp, while waiting for their flight at Stansted.

Although the distinctive lightweight bags are the ideal size for mini breaks, there are plenty of British designers who make equivalent ones, such as Burberry, Pickett, or even Smythson, for whom Sam Cam was previously creative director. According to our fashion editor, Susannah Frankel, Longchamp has raised its profile recently by having Kate Moss work with them. "Longchamp has always been a very chic, if rather conservative, luggage label," she says. "But it's become a lot more populist recently, thanks to Kate Moss."

Conservative yet populist? Perhaps Sam Cam knew what she was doing all along.

Cabinet Secretary Gus O'Donnell seems to have flouted Civil Service rules by voicing his opinions on Government policy. The £235,000-a-year mandarin, who says it's "wrong" for civil servants to publish memoirs, has given an interview to a Manchester United fanzine (he's a fan) in which he backs Sports minister Hugh Robertson's ideas on safe standing areas at grounds.

"I like the idea. I mean the emphasis is on the 'safe' as none of us want to go back to the problems we had with Hillsborough... if you can find a safe way of doing it, then most real fans would much rather be standing up than stuck in a corporate box.... Civil servants are definitely not against it. It is our job to implement policy as decided by ministers – we don't make decisions on these things. If ministers were keen and if you can crack the safety problems then, personally, give people the choice."

Actress Alison Steadman was treated to a rare night off on Wednesday, when a power cut brought the curtain down half an hour into the West End production of Blithe Spirit. The former Mrs Mike Leigh is starring as vivacious clairvoyant Madame Arcati in the Noel Coward play.

The Gielgud Theatre was also affected, as was the wig room of the Queen's Theatre, though its production of Les Mis carried on.

Power cuts have become an increasingly frequent feature in the West End, usually prompting mealy-mouthed apologies from power company EDF. The audience were compensated before trudging off into the night, though some thought Madame Arcati should have seen it coming and warned them.

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger popped up on the Today programme yesterday, to perform a little victory dance over the News of the World's admission that phone hacking was much more widespread than they had previously said. Interestingly, he singled out Tessa Jowell as the most egregious case, because she was a minister.

But, in a way, Jowell is the only victim for whom there could have been a public interest defence. In the other cases, reporters were clearly after celebrity nonsense.

Needless to say, Rubbisher's outrage has nothing to do with the fact he is old friends with David Mills, Jowell's husband, and that his wife has been a pal of Jowell's since they were at Edinburgh University together.

Just how much work do university lecturers do? This is the question going round Nottingham Uni after a leaked email from a union leader admitted that if staff had been on strike, "our absences may not have been noticed".

The embarrassing email from Mike Byrne, secretary of the University of Nottingham University and College Union, made its way into the hands of Impact, the student mag. The point of Byrne's email was to encourage anyone who took part in the March strikes to register their absence with HR.

"In our sector, the point of a one-day strike is largely missed if institutions do not get a clear indication from everyone who participated", he said. "The fact is that in many cases our absence may not have been noticed!"

Richard Madeley hasn't lost his knack for wedging his foot in his mouth. The tiggerish former TV host was dishing out the gongs at Friday's British Inspiration Awards, one of those upbeat ceremonies about promoting home-grown talent.

Sadly only three of the 10 winners turned up. And those who did weren't particularly famous, causing Madeley to ask the CEO of online fashion firm Asos to stand up, not realising that he was already giving a speech.

Ex-ITV chairman Michael Grade drew a titter with his self-deprecatory remarks on winning a prize. "When I looked at the nominees in my category, I was the only one I'd never heard of," he said.

m.bell@independent.co.uk

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