Matthew Bell: The <i>IoS</i> Diary (17/07/11)

Not one to declare all his meetings
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Andy Coulson says he knows nothing about the dark arts, but he does know how to shake off a stalker. The diary, cycling through St James's Square, SW1, found the disgraced former editor walking along the pavement, looking just like the only photograph of him that seems to exist, hunched and whispering into his mobile. So we pulled up and asked how he was faring – does he feel shafted by the Murdoch empire, which shifted the blame of Milly Dowler's phone being hacked on to him? "I'm not talking about that," he said, then scowled and turned on his heel. Curious to know how he fills his days, we trailed him down Pall Mall. But spotting us over his shoulder, he turned into Waterloo Place, then furtively dived down a pedestrian-only arcade, knowing we'd have to abandon the bike. I'm happy to report he shook us off in the crowd. Hats off, Andy!

Doing our rounds, we also notice that Colin Myler has been leaving his Chelsea home every morning to go to work. In case you've been on Mars, Myler was the editor of the News of the World, which printed its last edition last Sunday. He is reported to have been awarded a £2m pay-off. But his chauffeur-driven limousine turned up every day last week as usual. This suggests he might be helping put together the new Sunday Sun. Or, he hasn't got round to telling his wife.

Lost amid the hacking scandal was news that Mark Frith has stepped down as editor of Time Out. He had only been there two and a half years. But he is better known as the man who created Heat magazine, overseeing an explosion in circulation from 60,000 to over half a million. That was between 2000 and 2008, when our appetite for celebrity nonsense grew so much that some newspapers resorted to phone-hacking. When we ring Frith to point out this oddity, he is busy, but promises to ring straight back. Later, a spokesman calls and says there was never any phone-hacking at Heat magazine. She adds that Mark will call me back, but he never does.

Adam Ant was the star guest last Thursday at a party marking the launch of the Voewood literary festival next month. But the singer has greater cause for celebration. For I understand his bulldog, Elvis, has sired puppies. Soho couple Robert and Babette Pereno tell me their bitch, Modesty, is pregnant by him. At least, they think she is. "It was love at first sight," says Babette. "Modesty is sleeping all the time and her boobs have swelled, though we can't be certain. It could be a phantom pregnancy." They are hoping puppies will be born by September, when they open a bookshop in Soho. We'll leave the "Stand and Deliver" jokes to you, dear reader.

Wiltshire Council is pleased with itself after winning the "Most effective political team of the year" award, from something called the Municipal Journal. This may come as a surprise to residents used to reading stories about the council's eccentric prioritising of funds as it seeks to make savings of £99m. "Snouts in trough" ran one memorable headline last month, revealing how councillors had awarded themselves an increase of thousands of pounds in allowances. Then there's the chief executive, Andrew Kerr, who agreed to accept a pay freeze to his £189,000 salary, after people wondered why exactly he needed a £6,000 pay rise. Wiltshire, like all councils, is having to make cuts, though it has drawn criticism for its handling of the process, especially over library closures. But there have been personnel scandals too, with managers investigated over bullying, and a fiasco after the phrase "jungle drums" was uttered at a public meeting. Most effective indeed!

Caroline Spelman has already upset some people with her plans for a badger cull; now the Environment Secretary has fallen foul of the farmers of East Yorkshire by standing them up at the last minute. She was billed to appear at the Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate but never appeared. A spokesman says she had to attend a Cabinet meeting and no snub was intended, but the farmers are unimpressed. "It has been a difficult year for us with the dry weather and another food scare," says Grant Burton of Seaton Ross. "I think many farmers feel they have been snubbed by the minister... not turning up and listening to what they had to say." Show director Bill Cowling said the lack of support was typical of the Government's attitude to the North: "It is very disappointing," he sniffed.

Last week I reported how Spelman stunned colleagues by using an IoS article as a briefing paper. Must try harder.

m.bell@independent.co.uk

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