Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary (24/01/10)

Where every year is the Year of the Tiger

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Exciting news for followers of Boris Johnson. Andrew Gimson, his biographer, has new competition from freelance journo Sonia Purnell, who has a proposal currently "out" with publishers. Purnell, who spent a year as Boris's No 2 when he was the
Telegraph's Brussels correspondent in the early 1990s, feels that she – not a member of his world, his clan or even his gender – has a detachment that Gimson lacked. She says the Mayor is "Britain's only box-office politician, yet while everyone knows of Boris, and calls him just 'Boris', they don't really know him. And they will need to. He really, really wants to be PM." Will she be spilling the flageolets about their time in Brussels? She won't say, but adds: "He was not the easiest to work with. He was a bit secretive and not very collegiate."

As Britain's top spook, Sir John Scarlett has been accused of all sorts of skulduggery over the Iraq war and treatment of terror suspects. As head of the Joint Intelligence Committee he also signed off the dossier used to justify the invasion of Iraq. Odd then that the Imperial War Museum has now named him as a trustee. The museum was founded during the First World War as a memorial to all those who died in combat and to help future generations understand the nobility of what they had sacrificed for their country. What an "imaginative" choice Scarlett is, then.

Andrew "on trend" Neil had 24-year-old rapper Lady Sovereign as a guest on This Week last Thursday. But having introduced her to viewers at the start of the show, when it came to her segment she had vanished, leaving a red-faced Neil to explain that "Lady Sovereign has done a runner". So what was it about a cosy chat with Neil, Michael Portillo and Diane Abbott that prompted Sovereign to leg it? Over to the Beeb: "We fully appreciate that some people might find five minutes with Andrew Neil, Michael Portillo and Diane Abbott more daunting than 24 hours on Big Brother," quipped a spokesman, but shed no further light. As Brillo said, "Who needs Lady Sovereign? Who is Lady Sovereign?"

The fallout from Iris Robinson's affair with a 19-year-old continues. Top thriller writer Peter Robinson has had to post a message on his website begging loonies to stop sending him hate mail. Despite his website being called, after the hero of his detective novels, irate members of the public have mistaken him for the other Robinson, Northern Ireland's erstwhile First Minister. "Many thanks to all of you," he writes, "especially the person who said my wife was a homophobic slut who needed a good slapping around, and the other who suggested that I turn to Jesus Christ as my Saviour... but I must stress that I AM NOT Peter Robinson the politician, Northern Ireland's First Minister... Please, cease and desist!"

I share my colleague Janet Street-Porter's bemusement at Sarah Brown presenting an award at last week's slebtastic National Television Awards. Sarah's husband once said he didn't do celebrity. But while the PM's wife was merrily being snapped with David Tennant, there was no sign of Sam Cam, who clearly had better things to do. An NTA spokeswoman tells me Sam Cam had been invited "in the interests of balance", but had found herself otherwise engaged. How very sensible.

Paul Johnson writes favourably about a new history of Magdalen College, Oxford, his alma mater, in The Spectator. But one (younger) alumnus tells me Professor Brockliss's book primly overlooks the college's swinging Sixties history. "It gives the impression that Magdalen stood aside from the thrilling social changes of the 1960s," says writer Duncan Fallowell. "This is rot. My own contributions while I was there (1967-70) would include the following: I was the first person at Magdalen to take LSD. I was the first person in the entire history of Oxford and Cambridge to be caught with a transsexual in his rooms. And I built a pyramid of empty Gordon's gin bottles in my room which touched the ceiling well before the end of my first year. These are not negligible accomplishments for an undergraduate." Quite.

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