Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary (12/02/12)

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Hippy farmer Hector Christie is causing headaches for his fellow Old Etonian David Cameron, pointing out that the PM is at odds with his Environment minister on GM crops. "I spoke to David Cameron and he said the Conservative Party was against GM," Christie tells me. Tory MP Caroline Spelman, however, has said she is in favour of GM food. Christie is the heir to Glyndebourne, though he chose not to inherit the opera house, leaving it instead to his younger brother, Gus. He was in London on Friday to demonstrate against the National Farmers Union's decision to back GM crops. "It's quite reasonable," he said. "We want to know what the government line is, and why the National Farmers Union, which supports GM, has an office in Defra?" Christie was a minor telly star last year, when he appeared on Country House Rescue, allowing bossyboots Ruth Watson to tell him how to run his 6,000-acre Devon estate, Tapeley Park. Meanwhile, over at Glyndebourne, Gus and his opera singer wife, Danielle De Niese, have erected a massive wind turbine, much to Hector's eco approval. "I'm pretty thrilled," he beams, dismissing those who think it's a blot on the Sussex Downs.

Best known for playing Ricky in EastEnders, Sid Owen has said that his only ambition is to have a stab at Hollywood. Now he appears to be doing just that. As I can reveal, he caught a plane to Los Angeles last week. And if he's hoping to hang out with a ritzier set than the Albert Square stars, things are already off to a good start: also on British Airways Flight 269 on Thursday was U2 guitarist The Edge, heading to LA for today's Grammy Awards. My man sipping a Bloody Mary tells me that while Owen was in premium economy, The Edge sat 10 metres ahead in business class (though not first). Both wore regulatory celeb-wear: Ricky in dark glasses, and The Edge a baseball cap, which remained fastened to his scalp throughout the 11-hour flight (though he was asked to remove it at passport control). And did the two meet? "They bumped into each other in the loo," yells my man down the line from the tarmac. Owen failed to observe celebrity hierarchy, attempting to instigate a chat with one from a higher "list" than his own. "Alright?" he ventured. Answer came there none. Good luck in Hollywood, Ricky.

News that the BBC killed off a promising Newsnight investigation into Jimmy Savile's alleged improprieties with teenage girls raises the question: at what level was that decision made? Mark Thompson, the BBC's director-general, was collared at a party before Christmas by an angry employee, who told him the investigation had been axed, which Thompson didn't know. What is intriguing is whether the DG was scandalised, as you'd expect, by the thought of the popular DJ having such tendencies, or maybe by the muzzling of the corporation's journalism. So what inquiries did he make? We don't know. Strangely the BBC press office refuses to say.

Harry Redknapp may not have diddled HMRC out of any money, but he's a hard-nosed competitor. Labour's Andy Burnham has recalled the time he played ping pong with Redknapp and the Premier League's chief executive, Richard Scudamore, back in 2009. He was with Gordon Brown, then prime minister, who insisted he would play, too, making it a double match of Westminster versus Footy. "I said to Gordon, don't worry, I'll just play table tennis with Harry and you stand and watch," says Burnham, "but Gordon wanted to play. As you know [with Gordon's sight being impaired], racket sports might not be the best." Indeed, Scudamore claims that Redknapp, being highly competitive, kept hitting the ball to Gordon's side, which Burnham corroborates. "It's true," he sighs. "I'd serve and then Harry would straight hit back to Gordon."

As Boris Johnson ponders how on earth he can beat Ken Livingstone in the London mayoral election, I bring reassuring news from Steve Norris, who knows just how he feels. The one-time minister of transport stood as the Tory candidate against Livingstone in 2000 and 2004, but lost disastrously both times. It didn't help that the former MP had acquired the nickname "Nobber", on account of revelations that he had had five mistresses, the fifth of which became his second wife. Now he has popped up in the pages of French Property News, speaking about the joys of owning a house in the south-west of France with his current wife, Emma, and their 13-year-old son. He is, he tells us, blissfully happy, nipping down there every weekend. And there's no danger of him making a return to politics or to his old saucy ways. Not least since he now lives in Condom.

m.bell@independent.co.uk

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