Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary (01/04/12)

Only kidding
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Andrew Neil has considered throwing his hat in to be the next D-G of the BBC. It's not as daft as it sounds: a talented broadcaster and journalist, he also has 20 years' experience of running media empires. But alas, the 62-year-old tells me he decided against it, and is putting his weight behind Helen Boaden, the Beeb's Director of News. Speaking at a party to launch The Spectator's new lifestyle supplement, "Life", he says: "I thought about that, but ruled it out. I'm having too much fun. We could do with a woman at the top, and we need a proven programmes person, who will concentrate on content. I'm backing Boaden." That was Wednesday. The next day, Boaden's credentials took a battering, when it emerged she had signed off a Panorama documentary which drew accusations of "grossly misrepresenting" Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. Time for a rethink, Andrew?

Colin Firth started life as a Labour supporter, then openly backed the Lib Dems at the last election. Is he now preparing to join the Tories? I can disclose that the Bridget Jones star has been lunching with David Davis, the failed Tory leadership contender. The pair were spotted having an intimate meal à deux at Roux on Westminster Square. Onlookers had to double-take, as Firth appeared to be wearing a disguise. "He was wearing these enormous comedy glasses," says my man with the bread basket. "I didn't realise who it was at first." Davis is also keen to keep their rendezvous a secret, getting strangely touchy when I call. Just a thought, chaps, but if you really don't want to be seen, why not have a pasty at home?

Condolences to Dawn French, whose mother has died, aged 77. The Vicar of Dibley creator had moved to Cornwall to be near her, and the two were known to be close. Roma French was a popular figure in Plymouth, where she founded two drug addict rehab centres. Friends and neighbours last night described her as "wonderful", and "a truly inspirational woman". Dawn's father took his own life when she was 19 but, as she described in her memoirs, Dear Fatty, her mother was a survivor, working as a poodle-clipper and accountant before setting up Hamoaze House, an anti-drugs facility in Plymouth. It was through the charity that Dawn met her new squeeze, Mark Bignell, its chief executive, following the end of her 25-year marriage to Lenny Henry. Dawn has recently lost six stone, and reportedly spends her days as a recluse in her Fowey mansion, writing novels.

Bill Clinton will not be surprised to hear that Mike Nesbitt has been elected leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. The ex-president once had a memorable encounter with the plucky fellow during a line-up of Irish journalists at the White House. Nesbitt, an ex-broadcaster, who met his wife Lynda Bryans while working at Ulster TV, had a party trick of carrying a camera wherever he went, and would ask eminent people for a picture. When Clinton was asked, he naturally assumed Nesbitt wanted them both in the frame. "No, no", clarified Nesbitt. "Can you take it of me and my mate?" The most powerful man in the world duly obliged.

Thomas Bingham was one of Britain's most eminent lawyers when he died of cancer in 2010. His many roles included that of Lord Chief Justice. But Bingham's personal attitude to authority was rather less conformist. The MP Jesse Norman reveals that the council had deemed Bingham's home "unfit for human habitation", yet he carried on living there all the same. "It was still so when Tom was made Master of the Rolls in 1992," he writes in a warm profile of his father-in-law in Intelligent Life. One rule for them, another for the rest of us.

Confusing messages from Louise Mensch, the outspoken Tory MP who insists she hasn't had a facelift. In her column in the new issue of Glamour, she reveals the advice she would give her 16-year-old self: "Don't smoke or hang out at the Swan pub. It's not cool to drink 'til you puke. Say no to drugs." Are we to infer that these were the mistakes she once made? Mensch goes on to describe how she was always a geek who hated to have her picture taken. Judging by the sexy shoots of Mensch that regularly appear in glossy magazines, the same certainly couldn't be said of her now. You only have to admire the snap of her at the top of the page, in which she appears to be wearing Madonna's bullet bra beneath her blouse, to see how much confidence Mensch has now acquired.