Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary (23/05/10)

Always walking on sunshine
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The Independent Online

He once gave the Conservatives £5m all in one go, but Stuart Wheeler may be less keen to shell out to a Tory this time. A letter from velvet-gloved lawyers Carter-Ruck has landed on his doorstep claiming he has libelled Tory MP Greg Barker. It follows a series of comments the millionaiore betting tycoon made about Barker during the election campaign. Wheeler stood against Barker as an independent in Bexhill in protest at his expenses claims, having already abandoned the Tories over Europe. But now that Barker has been made a minister in the climate change department, it is unclear whether he will proceed with the action, as he would need the cabinet secretary's permission.

Celebrity chef John Burton Race is hanging up his apron to pursue a career in television. The chef, whose colourful personal life has kept the tabloids busy, is leaving his restaurant the New Angel in Dartmouth at the end of the month, to be replaced by young rising star Nathan Thomas, a former sous-chef at The Ledbury. Burton Race shot to fame after moving his family to France to film the TV series French Leave. At that time he had six children from two marriages, but three years ago his second wife left him after she discovered he had fathered a child by his agent's former PA. A £3m divorce ensued and he was declared bankrupt. A friend, Clive Jacobs, bought his restaurant to help him, but now they are parting ways. "If John's happy, then I'm happy," says Jacobs, "I've had more difficult things happen to me than a well-known chef leaving a restaurant."

Joan Bakewell, appointed old people's tsar by Gordon Brown, sounds rather relieved at the change of government. She is hoping they will drop plans for High Speed 2, Lord Adonis's new rail line, which is due to tunnel directly under her north London home. "What a wonderful way of saving money," she says, "there is a lot of anxiety around here about its impact." The broadcaster is among residents of Chalcot Square, in Primrose Hill, whose houses are at risk of subsidence if the tunnel is built. Musician Robert Plant is a neighbour, and the Milibands' family home is nearby. "I don't want to be a nimby about it but there is a giant open railway behind us – why can't it go there?" Chalcot Square's pastel-coloured houses are listed and built on clay, which causes problems with movement, but Joan, who moved in in 1963, is keeping her head: "My first response is don't panic. These things often don't go through."

Will Self and Andrew Neil made unlikely bedfellows at last week's Broadcast and Beyond conference. Neil was giving the grandly titled "state of the nation" lecture, in which he informed us that young people spend seven hours a day processing media, if you add together the time they spend on the internet while listening to iPods as they Twitter and watch telly. Then came Self, whose talk "If I ran telly...", called for a return to the days of just three TV channels: "Re-analogue the signal, pack away the cables, stack up the satellite dishes..." he intoned. Self and Neil are in fact old adversaries: a memorable recent exchange on the Today programme ended with Neil saying "Not everyone wants to stay in every night and read Kierkegaard with Will Self." No, we'd much rather go partying with Andrew.

How disloyal. Deborah Mattinson, Gordon Brown's chief pollster, and one of the few allies who seemed unlikely ever to stitch him up, is writing a book about the past 13 years, called, Talking to a Brick Wall. The title is not, she claims, inspired by working for Gordon, but refers to recent politics in general. It carries the sub-heading "Why We Don't Believe Politicians and How to Make Them Listen To Us", just to make the point quite clear. That's all right then.

Just as well Liam Fox was given defence, not health. The former GP once voted against the smoking ban, which I'm told didn't go down too well at home. His wife, Dr Jesme Baird, is a lung specialist at the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, and was, shall we say, less than amused.