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

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The Independent Online

As a foreign correspondent, Kate Adie was one of the best. But perhaps it's just as well she stuck to a career as a reporter and never tried her hand at politics. Running into her at a party last week she told me of her passionate distaste for certain foreign cultures. "Why does the West respect cultures like India, where to this day they burn widows on pyres?" she railed. "There is too much respect. The word respect is overused. Any culture which expects its women to hide their faces does not deserve our respect." Expounding her views further, she compared Islamic cultures to Chaucerian England. "Read 'The Canterbury Tales' and you find a culture where women cover their faces and men are flogged. That was seven centuries ago in this country, but Islamic cultures are exactly like that today. Why do we tolerate it?" A career in the Foreign Office thankfully never beckoned our Kate.

Winsome actress Keira Knightley, whose latest film 'The Duchess' premiered last week, reveals she has hired a "minder", as she is increasingly anxious about her security. Indeed, so fearful is she that I gather she no longer stays at her home in central London, preferring to check into The Dorchester when in town. A neighbour in the elegant Bayswater square where Keira owns a flat tells me the mob of paparazzi who used to prowl the street no longer bother turning up as she is never there. Maybe the paps were part of the problem – last year Keira's boyfriend Rupert Friend biffed one of them on the nose on returning from a night out. Now they've gone, perhaps Keira can come home.

'X-Files' actress Gillian Anderson is another diva with a love-hate relationship with her stardom. Despite keeping fans updated via a website, she claims to crave anonymity, saying recently that she likes to travel on the London Underground as she is rarely recognised there. But does she protest too much? An excited mole tells me of a chance encounter with Scully at the rural petrol station. Anderson, pregnant with her third child, apparently swept up in a vast black Jeep with tinted windows, from which she emerged, FBI-style, in oversized sunglasses. Naturally this prompted much twittering among fellow pump-users, to Anderson's annoyance, when one ventured to speak to her. Shouldn't somebody hint to Scully that such swanking might be normal in Mulholland Drive, but not at the Total in Hungerford?

Nearly a year after the mass walkout of agents from top talent agency Peters Fraser and Dunlop, the newly formed United Agents has a home. After lodging in temporary accommodation on Shaftesbury Avenue, the company has now moved into its refurbished premises in Lexington Street, Soho. A noticeably Hogarthian street, it is the home of such bohemian institutions as the 'Literary Review' magazine, the Academy Club, Merchant Ivory Productions, and the discreet foodies' mecca, Andrew Edmunds restaurant. Last year's exodus from PFD followed a failed buyout by the agents from parent company CSS Stellar. When they left they took with them their most famous clients, including Nick Hornby, Tom Stoppard, Kate Winslet and Ewan McGregor. Only last week PFD, now partly owned by Andrew Neil and Caroline Michel, suffered another blow with the loss of creative director Sue Douglas.

When celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz published a collection of her work, 'A Photographer's Life', she prompted outrage by including photos of the corpse of her lover Susan Sontag. Sontag's son David Rieff called the pictures "carnival images of celebrity death". Now Leibovitz admits the book may have been ill-judged. "I look at the show now, and the book, and I would probably never do it again – to that extent," she tells October's 'Vogue'. "There was a kind of naivety to it that in retrospect I know I would never do again.... We learn from all these personal events. You wish you knew then what you know now."

Rambunctious historian David Starkey was on form at last week's summer party at Foyle's bookshop. Falling into conversation with an aspiring young academic he introduced himself as "Britain's pre-eminent historian". So what advice could the great man offer? "Don't do it," he said. "It's not worth being an academic these days. You get paid the same amount as a dustman. £60,000 a year! Can you believe it? How on earth is one supposed to live on that? I've simply no idea." Any dustmen or academics out there on £60k – do get in touch.

m.bell@independent.co.uk

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