Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary

As darkness falls across the land...


Did Michael Jackson know he was going to die soon? A new biography out this week claims the superstar had been suffering from a rare lung condition, and that he needed a lung transplant "but was too weak for it". Ian Halperin, an investigative journalist who has written several books including
Who Killed Kurt Cobain?, says Jackson suffered from Alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency, a disorder that depletes the protein that protects the liver and lungs. A spokesman for Jackson has dismissed the claim, saying it is an attempt to hype the book, but any medical conditions are likely to be revealed with the results of the autopsy. He did say this summer's tour would be his "last ever".

Alan Milburn, not having been caught up in the expenses row, must really mean it when he says he wants to spend more time with his family. But who will replace him when he gives up his Darlington constituency at the next election? The smart money at Westminster is on No 10 policy wonk Patrick Diamond, once an adviser to Milburn, being parachuted in. Diamond rose to prominence working for Peter Mandelson, and was said to be keen to succeed him at Hartlepool when Mandy stepped down in 2004. But a Westminster mole with a long memory says he was talked out of it by Tony Blair, who thought it might not look good. Better luck this time?

The BBC executives' expense claims were perhaps a little disappointing, yielding few duck islands and no bath plugs. But bean-counters at the Beeb did once have to agonise over more imaginative claims in the days of Late Review, the arts and culture show that became Newsnight Review. Trotskyite poet Tom Paulin was a regular pundit, so much so that his learned pontifications were once memorably parodied on The Adam and Joe Show. On one occasion a producer recalls him submitting a bill from a hairdresser for £90, where he had apparently had his hair dyed. After some deliberation it was processed, on the basis he needed to look good for the camera. Other foibles included the insistence on Wolf Blass red wine for entertaining guests after the show, and a taxi back to his ivory bolthole in Oxford. Nothing's too good for an old Trot!

Charles Kennedy has worried friends by failing to make a speaking engagement. The former leader of the Lib Dems, who stood down over a drink problem in 2007, sent a text message to cancel just three hours before he was due on stage at Grassington Town Hall in North Yorkshire on Thursday, as part of a three-week arts festival. Hundreds of punters had paid £20 to hear Charlie's take on "the highs and lows of political life", but he cancelled without giving a reason. Kennedy has form on such no-shows, having failed to attend a live recording of Radio 4's Any Questions? last year.

Following growing unease over the Tories' links with some weirdo right-wing parties in the European parliament, David Cameron has swung into a charm offensive on the Jewish community. Last week he clocked up four separate engagements with top Jewish folk, including a visit to a centre for autistic adults in Berkshire. This happens to be in the Bracknell constituency of Andrew MacKay, who won't be standing at the next election because of his rum expense claims. Normally when the party leader visits your patch, you jolly well show up. But MacKay was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps it suited Dave that he didn't.

He is a notorious recluse, famous for never turning up to his own parties. But Charles Saatchi is preparing to expose himself like never before. The joint founding father of advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi, and husband of cooking goddess Nigella Lawson, has agreed to collaborate with art publishers Phaidon on a book called My Name is C Saatchi and I Am an Artoholic. The book will apparently follow a similar format to Dylan Jones' book on David Cameron, being a series of interviews, which Saatchi is expected to answer "with brutal frankness". Out in September, his "unflinching" responses have apparently created "an extraordinary first-hand account of the man". So not that similar to Jones's book then.

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