Matthew Bell: The IoS diary


This year's Oldie of the Year awards were again held at Simpson's-in-the-Strand, the traditional English restaurant – much to Sir Terry Wogan's discomfort. Wogan was the MC of the event and, as we heard in his speech, the menu of potted shrimps, steak and kidney pie and treacle sponge pudding had not been to his taste. He referred to the food with a low groan and asked 'Oldie' magazine editor Richard Ingrams: "Why do you do this to us every year?"

Kyle Paisley was there too and accepted a prize on behalf of his father Ian. He recalled how the formidable Ulster politician once reacted when one of his daughters joined Greenpeace and placed a rainbow sticker in the Paisley family's car window. "Take that sticker out of the car!" roared the Rev Ian. "I don't want any political activists in this family!"

Charity commissioner Dame Suzi Leather, a Labour Party member, should not count on lasting too long in her job if the Conservatives win the next general election. I hear that Dame Suzi's name sets Tory teeth on edge like a bite of banana skin. "When we were last in government, Leather was extremely troublesome to us over food safety standards," says one close to David Cameron, "and she now seems to be running the Charity Commission like an outsourcing agency of the Labour Party, particularly in its persecution of independent schools. The woman is a menace and a total nightmare."

Is Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, really as dull as his Budget performance would suggest? Those in the know say he is actually rather witty in private, while others argue there's no public evidence of this. But I'm informed that he's rather cool when it comes to music. "He likes the Killers and Coldplay," says one, "and he regularly consults his teenage children when it comes to what music to have on his iPod." So now we know.

Launceston Place, that Kensington eaterie that one reviewer said has the feel of a gentlemen's club, has managed to secure the wrath of Brian Sewell, art critic at the London 'Evening Standard'. In a strident memo, Sewell harrumphs of the restaurant: "The basic menu is now £35 for three courses, £45 for a six-course taster menu, no other choices are available. I've taken an hour and three quarters to screw two courses out of them, the portions so small they wouldn't satisfy a chihuahua." Now smoke that in your pipe.

'The Good Food Guide' recently nominated Wild Honey in Mayfair as having the best set menu. But perhaps the owners need to adopt a more welcoming policy, for just the other day, Robert Taylor, banker and chairman of the Whitechapel Gallery, turned up for lunch; while chaining his bicycle to the railings, he was whisked away by the receptionist who called him "unsightly". Taylor and his guest were so incensed that they took their custom elsewhere. But manager Will Smith emailed Taylor to say: "As you quite rightly say, many buildings on our street have bicycles chained to their fronts. This does not set a precedent though and they are at liberty to make their own decisions about how they want their front to look. We are a restaurant. The look of the building is a very important first impression and for that reason alone we do not allow bikes parked on our private property." The customer, evidently, is not always right.

I couldn't help noticing that George Galloway, Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, has listed a trip he made to the Cayman Islands in mid-January in the Register of Members' Interests. He says he was a guest of the Cayman Islands Celtic Supporters' Club. Galloway is indeed a supporter of Celtic and the Cayman Supporters' Club does exist. But it strikes me as rather curious why gorgeous George would want to take a freebie for the most unlikely of reasons. After all, Celtic's a Scottish football club. Perhaps it was more the weather that lured our George to the Cayman Islands during mid-winter?

Is Microsoft running short of cash? At the launch of a publication promoting city academies, a think-tank wonk from the Policy Exchange chirped: "We would like to thank Microsoft for sponsoring this event." But one attendee said: "Thanks for nothing. There wasn't a drop of alcohol, only orange juice."

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