Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary (12/06/11)

Serving is honour enough

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Patrick Leigh Fermor, author of two of the most poetic travel books ever written, chose to die at home in Worcestershire on Friday, after seeing the world. He was, according to his biographer Artemis Cooper, desperate to come home one last time to see his friends. Since the death of his wife in 2003, Sir Patrick had been living in Kardamyli, his house in the Mani, southern Greece. I can reveal that fans will be able to visit the house, as he has left it to the Benaki Museum in Greece. His death at the age of 96 cast a shadow over the 25th wedding celebrations of Cooper to her husband, the historian Antony Beevor, who held a party in London on Wednesday. Other friends of the writer included Debo, Duchess of Devonshire, whose book of correspondence with Paddy, In Tearing Haste, was a hit in 2008. The good news is that Paddy had nearly finished editing the third and last volume of his travelogue, which follows the wonderful A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. This will cover the year 1935, in which he walked from the Iron Gates, on the Danube, through Bulgaria, Romania and Greece to Constantinople. The pressure is now on for Cooper to finish her biography too. "I have written too many words," she tells me, "though some parts aren't written at all."

The Archbishop of Canterbury had no regrets about skewering the coalition in the New Statesman when I caught up with him on Thursday night. Rowan Williams was the guest of honour at the launch of A N Wilson's biography of the poet Dante, and the book is even dedicated to him. Although news of the Archbishop's broadside on the Government dominated that day's news, he was, he told me, entirely oblivious to it. "Whenever I say anything I get attacked, I'm quite used to it. I've been in meetings all day anyway, so I don't know what people are saying. Of course I knew my edition of the Statesman would generate the headlines it has, but I have no regrets at all. I just hope it will open up the debate." Asked if choosing a left-leaning publication as his platform was an indication of his own political views, he gave a broad smile and said, "Well, I have got form on that." But annoying the Government was not, in fact, the high point of editing the Staggers. "No, getting A S Byatt to write an exclusive short story for us was my greatest achievement."

Peter O'Toole has vowed never to return to Stratford-upon-Avon, a town he describes as "ghastly and provincial". Making an appearance at The Oldie's monthly lunch at Simpson's-in-the-Strand, the 78-year-old stage hero told me he had only been twice and hated it both times. "There was nothing to do there, and nowhere to eat. All the locals resented us actors turning up. It was a provincial town, where people were forever doing up their cottages. We were totally trapped. No wonder Shakespeare got out as soon as he could."

Will Gompertz, the BBC's controversially appointed arts editor (he was a commuting pal of the DG) is proving his worth. After some expensive training, he is turning out some decent reports, such as Wednesday's interview with the new ICA director, Gregor Muir, on the Today programme. He wasn't afraid to rough Muir up a bit, but he avoided mentioning by name the three men in charge in the period leading up to the ICA's £1.2m government bailout last year. So who are they? Alan Yentob, Philip Dodd and Ekow Eshun, who all take a shilling from the BBC. How kind to spare their blushes!

Mariella Frostrup and Anneka Rice haven't been best of friends, ever since Mariella went out with Anneka's ex-husband Nick Allott soon after their marriage broke up. So a frisson went round the Century Club on Thursday when both appeared to celebrate the launch of Penny Smith's novel, Summer Holiday. Mariella popped in on her way to the Ark fundraiser in Kensington Palace, but Anneka stayed longer, chatting with guests such as Nick Mason, Kathy Lette and Nick Ferrari. Alas, photographers couldn't persuade Mariella, Anneka and Penny to pose together.

Prince Philip may be known for his gaffes, but on his 90th birthday the diary salutes his irreverent approach to public life, for adding to the gaiety of the nation. John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, told the House of Lords last week about the time he visited Windsor Castle to admire the chapel, which had been restored after the fire. Prince Philip greeted him saying, "Come and see my new piece of modern art." He duly flourished an object. Sentamu made appreciative noises, asking gravely: "Who is the artist?" Philip roared with laughter and said: "It's a piece of wood saved from the fire!"

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