Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary

Perks come as standard


He was Margaret Thatcher's most trusted adviser and now boasts a string of prestigious directorships. But it saddens me to disclose that Charles Powell is in danger of earning himself a new title, that of tree murderer, if he presses ahead with plans to fell four beautiful trees outside his Bayswater, west London, home. Neighbours of the Tory peer are vigorously protesting against his application to fell two London plane trees, a cherry and a maple, which they say are a vital part of the conservation area's character. But Powell, who chose to be styled Lord Powell of Bayswater when ennobled, has been told by engineers that his house is suffering from subsidence because of what they call "tree root trespass". Westminster council is mulling things over and there is to be a meeting to thrash it out next week. Time to call Swampy?

Downing Street will be a quieter place without Baroness Vadera, also known as Shriti the Shriek for her, um, forthright interpersonal skills. Shriti has been chummy with Gordon since their days at the Treasury, when they once made a visit together to the Vatican. Arriving slightly ahead of the party, Shriti was given a warm welcome and shown into a papal waiting chamber. Alas, speaking no Italian, she suffered a breakdown in communications. With the rest of her party already ensconced in their meeting, the British ambassador to the Vatican got an urgent phone call. It was Shriti, calling from deep within the palace, begging to be rescued. "There's been some confusion," she explained. "They're all bowing and scraping – they think I'm the Queen of Jordan!".

Anish Kapoor's exciting new show got off with not so much a bang as a whimper on Friday, when Friends of the Royal Academy were let in for a peek. One of his big pieces is Shooting into the Corner, a paint gun firing 9kg pellets of coloured wax across the room every 20 minutes to the sound of Tchaikovsky's 1812 overture. But by lunchtime the gun had, alas, packed up, and by the afternoon a forlorn sign had appeared apologising to friends for the "disappointment". Fortunately all was well again by yesterday, when a spokesman reassured me the gun was firing away as we spoke. Who said modern art is rubbish?

Tony Blair wasn't quite as smooth as we all thought, according to an anecdote in Adam Boulton's new book, Tony's Ten Years. In the final weeks at No 10, Blair's political director Matthew Doyle organised a garden party for staff and their families, where Blair wandered around meeting and greeting. "Afterwards he asked the team if the event had not been 'a bit gay?'. Aghast, some of them quietly told the prime minister that Matthew Doyle was gay. In a mark of his lack of curiosity about others, Blair said he had no idea and immediately apologised to Doyle." How very Ricky Gervais.

Ding a ling. It's a phone call from The Undertones, ringing in to correct a story in last week's paper. They say that Feargal Sharkey's got it all wrong about "Teenage Kicks", after he told an audience at the Independent literary festival that the song was originally about masturbation. "I've no idea where Feargal got that idea," says John O'Neill, who in fact wrote the song. "That is not a subject I would write a song about." Feargal sticks to his story when I call, but the rest of the band are fuming, pointing out that Feargal didn't write any of the band's songs and that his claim damages the band's name. I think we'll tip-toe away from this one.

A poignant detail of the expenses scandal was that the whistle-blowers were soldiers doing shifts in the Expenses Office between tours of duty in Afghanistan. It was sorting through MPs' claims for swimming pool maintenance while maimed colleagues were using municipal pools that clinched their decision to go to the press. So it's with apposite timing that a fundraising ball is to be held for the rehabilitation charity Help for Heroes in Chelsea on 14 November, in aid of soldiers wounded in action. The evening has been organised by a group of young professionals, although the press release notes that "the young at heart will be joining the party as well, such as Martin Bell". Sir Richard Dannatt and Sherard Cowper-Coles are attending, and plenty of contrite MPs too, no doubt.

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