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

Where everyone comes down safely
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The Independent Online

The mysterious case of the Gstaad chalet destroyed by a fire over the New Year, where President Yushchenko of Ukraine is thought to have been staying, has yet to be fully explained. As reported in the IoS last week, the eight people who were staying at the chalet when it was suddenly engulfed in flames in the middle of the night all escaped unhurt, but skedaddled in diplomatic-plated limousines before police could arrive for questioning. Now my flush-faced man with the glühwein tells me the Ukrainian president's chief of staff Viktor Baloha, the man responsible for negotiating ongoing gas talks with Russia, was one of the eight. Neither man is favourably regarded by the Kremlin, which has inevitably aroused suspicion, not least since Yushchenko was poisoned in 2004. Swiss police say the fire was started by a technical defect in the lighting. Those familiar with the area, who claim such fires are pretty well unheard of, say, "They would say that, wouldn't they?"

On the subject of narrow escapes, Guy Ritchie's mother Amber, Lady Leighton, is lucky to be alive after a neighbour ploughed his car into her front room. The two-bedroom cottage in Somerset was pretty comprehensively totalled after an 80-year-old gentleman from next door found his foot stuck on the accelerator. Witnesses say she would certainly be dead had she been at home. Only the most lively-minded conspiracy theorists could draw any connection between this freak accident and the ongoing spat between Guy's mum and his ex-wife Madonna. When Madge called Guy emotionally retarded, Amber described Madge as coming "from the wrong end of the market". Now this. Spooky.

A survivor, an independent woman – Sarah Ferguson is worthy of any Beyoncé song. But one of the Duchess's many projects has, sadly, hit the skids. For the past two years she has been working on her first novel, 'Hartmoor', a historical romance about the adventures of one Lady Margaret Hartmoor, a fiery redhead des-cribed by the Duchess as "me in 1759", who is "attacked by highwaymen and things like that". It was due to be published in the US last year and over here about now, but has been put back indefinitely. It's thought the manuscript is complete, prompting fears her publisher, the St Martin Press, has had a change of heart. "As far as I know it's still in the working stages," says her spokesman. "There's no great drama about it. It's absolutely happening." But her publishers are less confident when I call. "We don't know what's happening with it right now," they say.

Gissa job. Labour backbencher Keith Vaz has spoken out in support of David Miliband after he heroically condemned the rhetoric of the "war on terror" just days before President Bush leaves office. Some people feel it might have been useful if Milly Bland had piped up earlier, when it could have made a difference, but not Vaz. He wrote in yesterday's 'Guardian': "I fully support David Miliband's speech... his decision to make the speech at one of the sites of November's attacks [in Mumbai] was symbolically important..." Vaz had a promising career in the Foreign Office until that unfortunate business with the Hinduja brothers. But his support of the Foreign Secretary is, of course, not at all symbolically important or anything to do with wanting his old job back.

It's not looking hopeful for Richard Rogers, Zaha Hadid and the assortment of trendy architects campaigning to save the Robin Hood Estate in east London from demolition. Culture minister Barbara Follett is due to decide its fate any day now, and it's thought she will side with Margaret Hodge and English Heritage, who have already recommended it be flattened. If so it will be a disappointment to fans of Alison and Peter Smithson's brutalist creation and to the Twentieth Century Society, which organised the attempt to have its urine-soaked concrete stairwells listed. Rogers was taught by Smithson and has compared the estate to Bath's Royal Crescent. But English Heritage has drily noted that his views "demand respect... but are not relevant to the issue of listing".

m.bell@independent.co.uk

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