Matthew Bell: The <i>IoS</i> Diary (14/08/11)

Sweeping up the odds and ends
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The Independent Online

Antony Beevor has defended his friend and fellow historian David Starkey from accusations of racism. "I don't think David is racist," he tells me. "I think he's definitely provocative, and he likes stirring up a debate, but to say he is racist is not right. I haven't seen the Newsnight in question, but I have never heard him say a racist remark or inference. I would be extremely surprised, to put it mildly." Starkey caused a stir with his appearance on Friday's Newsnight, when he said "the whites have become black", and appeared to equate black culture with gangster behaviour. Beevor, the award-winning author of Stalingrad and Berlin: The Downfall 1945, is an old friend and neighbour of Starkey in Kent. "It's certainly true that young whites are copying blacks in some ways, but to go back to rivers of blood is not right," he adds. "The important point that tends to be overlooked in this is that young black women are often doing better than their white contemporaries. The problem is as much sexism as racism."

Theresa May has tottered on to centre-stage in the wake of the London riots, flexing her muscles as Home Secretary to ban an English Defence League march in Telford yesterday. But just as she begins to prove her authority, I can reveal that a top shoe designer is preparing to launch a range of Theresa May kitten heels. May famously wowed delegates at the Tory party conference in 2002, when she delivered her maiden speech as party chairman in a pair of leopard-print hot-to-trot heels. Now, Beverly Feldman, who designed the shoes for Russell & Bromley, plans to relaunch the Hot to Trot range, in time to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the speech next year. After May's speech in Bournemouth in 2002, the local branch of Russell & Bromley sold out of the £110 shoes within hours. Depending on how May's crackdown goes, we might be able to just help ourselves this time round.

The feeling in smart circles is that Charlie Gilmour's prison sentence should be cut following last week's riots. The 21-year-old Cambridge undergraduate and adopted son of Pink Floyd guitarist Dave Gilmour was given a 16-month sentence last month, for swinging on a flag from the Cenotaph in Whitehall. This crime rather pales when compared with the systematic looting and thuggery of the past week. Meanwhile, reports in other newspapers that Charlie Gilmour is in line to inherit his father's £78m fortune are, I'm told, wide of the mark. Gilmour senior was created CBE in 2003 for services to philanthropy, and has always believed children should be raised to know the value of money. Friends tell me the father of eight disapproves of inherited wealth, and has no plans to leave his estate to Charlie.

Jim Haynes is a veteran of riots, having found himself in Paris in 1968. He settled there, and has become famous for holding a weekly Sunday-night salon, which recently featured in an advert for After Eight mints. But he is also a well-known Edinburgh figure, having co-founded the Traverse theatre, and spends every August at the festival. Alas, disaster struck as the 77-year-old completed his annual pilgrimage from Paris to Edinburgh last week: having successfully crossed riot-stricken London, he suffered a heart attack on the platform of Waverley station. I'm pleased to report, however, that he was rushed to hospital and is making a good recovery. "I expect to be discharged and back in my favourite spot at the book festival by mid-week," he tells me. "I'm surrounded by a chorus of pretty nurses, so I'm viewing it as a bit of performance art."

One hero among many last week was Mark Stone, the Sky reporter who marched straight up to a gang of looters and asked what on earth they were up to. Stone is relatively new to the post, having been a reporter for only four years, before which he was a producer. The last Mark Stone to make headlines was the police officer who went native, after spending years undercover with eco-warriors. That police operation cost a reported £2m and solved a questionable number of crimes. Here's a suggestion for the police – why not adopt the Sky Mark Stone strategy more often, and just, er, tackle criminals head on?

m.bell@independent.co.uk

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