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

In nobody's Shadow

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Some people are asking why The Savoy chose Stephen Fry as their first guest tonight, following a three-year £220m refurbishment programme. "Collectively, we simply couldn't think of anyone who better embodied the true essence and style of the Savoy," witters a spokesman. But Fry's connection to the smart Thames-side hotel is more than a bit of PR whimsy – in his darker days, after being expelled from Uppingham, he stole two credit cards and ran away to London where he lived a fantasy life as a Wildean dandy, wearing stiff collars and silk ties and spending all the money on cocktails at the Savoy. He was eventually caught and given three months in Pucklechurch Prison.

The launch of Jonathan Franzen's latest novel has been blighted by so many weird happenings – the stolen glasses, the pulped first edition – that it all feels suspiciously like a publicity stunt. But Giles Coren writes to vouch that, no, this is just what publishers are like, the bungling fools, and the pitiful site of HarperCollins's chief exec Victoria Barnsley grovelling at Monday's launch party certainly gave that impression. One further gaffe HarperCollins hasn't apologised for was failing to send a car to take Franzen to the BBC to appear on Start the Week that morning. There was a tube strike and Franzen stood in the rain for 45 minutes before eventually arriving half an hour into the live show.

The trouble with Michael Heseltine is that he had to buy his own furniture, Alan Clark once wrote. Still, he did also cleverly buy each of his teenage children a house in London before the property boom, and now his daughter Annabel is flogging her Kensington pile for £7.5m. Not bad, given that Hezza paid £230,000 for it in 1980. But perhaps Clark's withering comment about Heseltine wasn't so far off: Annabel proudly tells an interviewer she has ripped out all the original fireplaces and cornices from the stuccoed townhouse, knocked down the ground floor walls, put the kitchen in the hall and painted the bedrooms purple. Worst of all there isn't a single bath in the house. "Frankly, I don't know anyone in London these days who has time for baths," she barks. What would Alan say?

Last weekend, she won the Stirling prize for architecture; this weekend, Zaha Hadid is lashing out at British men. Answering a barrage of rather impertinent questions from The Guardian – when was the last time she had a boyfriend? Has there been one recently? (she is single) – the Baghdad-born architect fended them off before announcing: "Men think a woman should not have an opinion. I think more so here than other places." A pity, then, that the (male) interviewer didn't invite her to give her opinion on how to tackle the deficit. Earlier this year she took a leaf out of the bankers' book and awarded herself a 31 per cent pay rise to £490,000 despite her practice posting a fall in profits.

Simon Heffer's bossy new book on grammar is demolished by David Crystal in the current New Statesman, who rattles off a list of all its inconsistencies and flawed logic. "Heffer writes that we 'should avoid passives', but the opening sentence of that section begins: 'The passive voice of a transitive verb is used...'," says Crystal, himself an author of several books on language and linguistics. He goes on to point out that many of Heffer's sentences contain over 60 words despite him telling us to keep them short, and adds that he says the apostrophe "is never to be used to signify plurals" – but A's B's and C's are a "sensible convention". So what is The Heff's response to his expert critic? "I take the Mandy Rice Davies view," he tells me, "He would say that, wouldn't he?"

We have little time for the petty squabbles of vulgar millionaires but can't help wondering what Sir Philip Green will make of being turned into a scarecrow by fellow businessman William Chase. The founder of Tyrrells Crisps and Chase Vodka is said to be erecting a Sir Philip scarecrow on his Herefordshire farm, "so the birds can eat his eyes out". That's not very nice. Apparently Chase is still smarting after Green said he'd never get more than £20m for the crisp company, (he sold 60 per cent for £40m) and that his prize-winning potato vodka "would never work". He also seems to object to Green being appointed Cameron's Government spending Tsar. Come back to us when you've made your first billion.

Talking of money, please could the reader who sent a used £50 note to the Diary in an anonymous envelope make themselves known. Grateful as we are, it takes a lot more than that to bribe this column. We'll be forwarding it to the Distressed Diarists' Fund.

m.bell@independent.co.uk

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