Matthew Bell: The <i>IoS</i> Diary

Trips up more big names than the red carpet
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The Independent Online

What is going on in Gstaad? On Thursday night, yet another chalet at the high-octane ski resort went up in flames, only six weeks after a blaze destroyed the chalet where President Yushchenko of Ukraine is thought to have been staying. Until now fires in the resort had scarcely been heard of. The first was said to have been caused by an electrical defect, although suspicion was aroused when the party of house guests disappeared in diplomatic limousines. The occupants of the second chalet are so far unknown. Conspiracy theorists will make much of the fact the local fire brigade was hampered in its response because its radio system was, mysteriously, broken. How very unSwiss.

If only John Maynard Keynes were alive to sort things out. Even the esteemed economist’s biographer, Robert Skidelsky, has hit the skids, having lost a small fortune through the collapse of hedge fund Wermuth Asset Management. The fund, of which Lord Skidelsky is a board member, has lost an eye-watering 90 per cent of its worth, having invested in Russian assets, including a lingerie chain, Wild Orchid, purveyors of knickers throughout Russian and the Ukraine. I’m told the Tory peer now plans to resign from the board, which should go some way to rescuing his reputation as a respected economics pundit.

Scandal seems to run in the family for Tessa Jowell’s husband David Mills. His brother John, a businessman even richer than David, was once sacked from the board of the London Docklands Development Corporation for failing to disclose that he had been successfully prosecuted for flogging fake jewellery. Then there’s John’s wife Barbara Mills, who was forced to resign as director for public prosecutions after criticism from the High Court. They both bounced back – we’re sure David will too.

Princess Margaret would have been burnt to a crisp had it not been for the gallant efforts of Jeremy Taylor, long-serving head porter at Christ’s College, Cambridge. In an interview with the Cambridge Alumni Magazine, he recalls frantically trying to extinguish a kitchen fire, Basil Fawlty-style, as the princess was hobnobbing in an adjoining room. “Some youths had set fire to empty boxes from the kitchen and the flames were 10 or 15 feet high,” he says. “I fought the blaze with all the fire extinguishers I could find until the fire brigade arrived. I met Princess Margaret as she came down the stairs – I was still smoky.” It’s unlikely she would have noticed, being famous for carrying her own fug of smoke about with her.

Ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s cashed in on Barack Obama’s inauguration with its Yes Pecan! flavour. Now, to commemorate Dubya, it’s asked the public for some suggested flavours. Top contenders include Abu Grape, Iraqi Road, Chock ’n’ Awe, Cookie D’oh! and Chunky Monkey in Chief.

Composer Michael Nyman has lashed out at the Government over our surveillance culture after learning that his local pub has been ordered to install CCTV. “For what purpose are we being filmed? All that crap about protecting the public from terrorism and crime is just that – meaningless crap,” he raves, accusing his MP Emily Thornberry of using “weasel words” for suggesting residents have a right to live free from the fear of crime. “Total bollocks, I’m afraid. It’s just a symbol of a kind of uncultured nastiness that seems to pervade a system that allows the Home Secretary of all people to exploit privileged loopholes in their generous world of dodgy benefits that most of the rest of the electorate do not have available to them.” Stick that in your pipe, Thornberry.

Should Victoria sponge cakes contain cream? Apparently not, according to Dame Helen Mirren. In a documentary about the film Calendar Girls to be screened on Wednesday, Dame Helen recalls the ladies of the WI twittering during the filming of a scene featuring such a cake. “The props guy had to come in, and he said they didn’t have any without cream,” she says, “He had to open up the sponge, carefully take all the cream out, and put it back together.”