Jamie Packer's quest to buy up all the compromising pictures of his fiancee are doomed, I fear. But I'm open to offers ...

Click to follow
My eyes do not light up like Sergeant Bilko's at the prospect of making a fast buck. Nor does the subject of blackmail hold many attractions for me. But when a love-struck billionaire comes a-calling - well, who could resist turning embarrassment into easy cash?

The chap in question is Jamie Packer, 29-year-old son of Kerry Packer, the media mogul famed for his unusual "Is-he-wearing-a-stocking-mask?" looks, his polo team, his yacht and for being the richest person in Australia. Jamie runs the old man's business empire, worth pounds 2bn, and being young, handsome, gullible and the heir, is a bit of a draw for les filles. He is engaged to marry one Kate Fischer, 23, who - though he may have convinced himself that she is a demure, maidenly, stay-at-home, sock-darning and generally wifely type (see picture) - has, it seems, a few skeletons in her closet. According to a leading gossip writer, Mr Packer is now spending colossal sums trying to buy up all the photographs taken, in less discriminating times, of Ms Fischer in fishnets, suspenders, handcuffs, black boots and (not a rare image, apparently) in nothing at all. One magazine photographer has had pounds 100,000 pressed on him by Packer, in exchange for a promise that he'll bin the negatives.

Such gallantry. Mr Packer's desire to keep his beloved's fragrant poitrine for no one's eyes but his own does him credit. One thinks of Hedy Lamarr's husband, who tried to buy up every reel of Extase, the 1933 Czech movie in which the raunchy 19-year-old whipped her top off in a pool. One thinks of Joan Crawford trying to stifle every frame showing her undraped form in an ill-advised early effort called The Casting Couch. One thinks of Madonna attempting to suppress her group-sex cameo in A Certain Sacrifice...

When it comes to Ms Fischer, though, I'm afraid it's a bit late. Someone must explain to Mr Packer that his fiancee's bosom is already as familiar as Venus de Milo's. Nothing is to be gained by buying up all existing pictures of Kate in her birthday suit, because lots of people he doesn't even know have got some stashed away. My own come from a film starring Hugh Grant, Fischer and Elle Macpherson, in which everyone gets their kit off. Once upon a time, Ms Lamarr's husband could buy up all the reels on which his wife paraded her shame. But not even Mr Packer's two billion is enough to buy up all the Sirens videos in the world. On the other hand, he's welcome to try. I'm not a greedy man, Mr P. Shall we say pounds 50 and a ride in your yacht?

Robert B Reich, an American university professor, is one of the original "friends of Bill". He first met President Clinton on a boat sailing to England where they were both to be Rhodes Scholars at Oxford. (Reich got seasick; Clinton, displaying admirable political prescience, brought him chicken soup). Reich apparently inspired the great saxophonist's thinking on matters social and economic, and with a certain inevitability he landed a job in the first Clinton cabinet, as Labour (as in employment) Secretary. Now he has published the diary he kept in those years, and it's an unexpected best-seller in American book charts. By faithfully reporting dozens of behind-the-scenes wrangles and breakfast confrontations among cabinet eminences, and keeping the hang-wringing political theory to a minimum, Locked In The Cabinet tills the same rich field of gossip as Primary Colours by Joe Klein.

But what is this on page 155? After flying to Detroit to meet a local priest who's a whizz at raising cash to educate inner-city dropouts, Reich attends a "jobs summit" in Washington: "The Jobs Summit is a deadly bore. I have to sit next to the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, who talks endlessly about the virtues of the free market and the social benefits of selfishness, all with such pomposity that I have to restrain myself from causing an international incident by telling him what I think. He is as rotund as he is arrogant, a thoughtless disciple of Margaret Thatcher. Will the Tories wreck Britain before the British wreck the Tories?" You have to cudgel your memory for half a minute to discover who this corpulent, doctrinaire right-wing Thatcherite can be. The year is 1994; it's Kenneth Clarke.

For the last month or so, I've been conducting a small vendetta with Sketchley's, my local dry cleaners. Possibly as a result of some new management initiative, they have started giving themselves tremendous airs. "Is that linen?" they'll say. "It's our policy to charge pounds 2 extra on linen garments." Given that every grown-up male who has been impressed by a) Martin Bell or b) The English Patient in the past few months now wears a cream linen jacket, this seems a teensy bit opportunistic. There are two speeds of efficiency at Sketchley's: Standard (ie, reasonably priced) and Gold Service (ie, exorbitant). When they ask "D'you want that done Gold Service?" and you reply, "No thanks, I can think of better things to do with my entire monthly salary," they do everything, short of actually throwing your clothes on the floor and stamping on them, to register their contempt for your cheapskate posturing. Then, the other day, the Ginger Spice doll behind the counter announced: "It is now our policy to ask for payment in advance." We regarded each other coldly. "It may well be," I said, "but it's not my policy to pay for anything until it's done." (With the exception of ingesting beer, of course). "It's our policy," she said through clenched teeth.

"It ain't mine," I retorted, pure Lee Van Cleef.

For a month I handed in trousers and jackets, was asked for payment in advance, refused to comply, stood on my dignity, paid on collection and generally got my own way. Then, on Saturday, the war opened another front. The place was crowded, six or seven people being served by two matrons in white overalls, along with my stroppy beauty. I presented her with a favourite jacket and two pairs of pants. Taking a deep breath, she inquired, in tones of suspicion that would not disgrace Michael Mansfield QC, "What are these stains?"

Excuse me?

"Woss this?" She pointed to a disgusting orangey blot. "Curry?"

"No," I said. "Yes. Well not exactly curry. I think, um, it was karahi gosht, a sophisticated Punjabi dish, I believe..." But the other customers had got the message: I was a Friday-night, balti-house-haunting, lager- hoovering yahoo with no table manners.

"This blood?" she asked laconically, having moved on to the pockets. "Or somethin' else," she added darkly. A couple of the people behind me craned to see.

"I have no idea," I said. "They're just ordinary, day-to-day wear and tear." The customers began to mutter. Obviously this was the sort of thing Jeffrey Dahmer would say about the stains on his jacket. She picked up the trousers. "What about these stains?" The queue began to make whinnying noises, like the villagers in a Hammer horror movie. "This one by the crotch?" Why, I asked her in an urgent undertone, "are you asking me these awful questions? "It's our policy, sir," she said brightly. "It helps with the cleaning process if we know what kinds of stain..."

I opened my cheque book. "Perhaps I could pay you in advance for this," I muttered. "That'll do nicely sir," she replied sweetly.