Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary

Only job where you can live on the tips alone


You would think the prospect of a reality programme based on Liz Hurley and organic farming would have the TV execs frothing at the mouth. But seemingly not. Last year she offered to present such a programme from her farm in the Cotswolds for Channel 4, only for them to turn it down. She tried it on ITV but last week they too said a polite "No thank you". What is going on? My mole in the green room tells me that telly doesn't, shall we say, bring out the best in Liz, who would be likely to ask for a good deal of editorial control. "Besides, she was really wooden in
Project Catwalk for Sky," I'm told.

They are all a-twitter in Downing Street. Tony Blair's former senior policy adviser Patrick Diamond, who a couple of years ago would have been pipped only by Peter Mandelson in a "People Gordon Brown would most happily see at the bottom of a mine shaft" competition, is returning to work for Gordon. "We're putting the band back together," says an excitable voice at No 10.

Margaret Atwood caused an international stir recently when she pulled out of the Dubai Festival of Literature after a row about censorship. She certainly made up for her absence from the literary scene at last week's Hong Kong Literature Festival, appearing in four events of her own and even pitching in as an interviewer from the audience of another. The event that Atwood attended turned charmingly scatalogical after a scheduling mishap pitched novelist Sophie Gee and environmentalist Julia Whitty together and forced them to share stories about 18th-century garbage (Gee) and whale faeces (Whitty). But Atwood attempted valiantly to raise the tone, asking several chaste and incisive questions from the floor. The event's moderator, the South China Morning Post's hard-working literary editor Stephen McCarty, was delighted to be able to nod in her direction and repeatedly announce, Paxman-like: "Margaret Atwood". Sad the Dubai crew didn't have the same opportunity.

A bit of a gem has turned up in Labour MP Chris Mullin's diaries A View from the Foothills. We all know that the Rupert Murdoch/Conrad Black North Atlantic axis did a huge amount to support Margaret Thatcher in office, but rather less to help her successor John Major. But we didn't know that he contemplated banning foreign ownership of British media entirely. Mullin reports bumping into Major after he left office, when Major confirmed that he had got his advisers to look into the feasibility of a ban, but the plan did not get off the ground. Major, though, was deadly serious. "I'm not interested in any blow that isn't fatal," he told Mullin.

Irene Khan is to stand down as head of Amnesty International, I hear. She tendered her resignation last week, effective from the end of the year. Amnesty tells me she is simply seeing out her contract, but I'm told the executive committee was not inclined to offer her another. In any event, they are looking for someone to raise their profile.

A new version of a diplomatic exchange reported some months ago has reached me. The Russian ambassador in Kabul, Zamir Kabulov, has extensive experience there, and some weeks ago he was reported as having helpfully marked the card of a British diplomat in how best to handle the mission there. In fact, I am told Kabulov chattily told a very senior Foreign Office man: "You British are making exactly the same mistakes in Afghanistan that we made in the 1980s." "Oh really," said Our Man in the Panama Hat, "and what are they?" Kabulov replied with wintry KGB humour: "You think I'm going to tell you?"

A longish article in yesterday's Times about "Village X", where Elisabeth Fritzl is now living with her six children, quoted Austria's justice minister on the menace of the paparazzi and her plans to tighten Austria's "strict victim protection laws". Quite right too. But what's this? The ever-obliging Times prints a picture of the house, no less. Together with the other clues in the article, it shouldn't take a half-competent snapper more than a couple of hours to track them down.

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