New terror stalks the celeb circuit

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The Independent Online
AS NIGHT follows day, the papers will now start saying that Norman Lamont wasn't so bad really, and that he had some good points we might have overlooked at the time. Forget it. There is one, and as far as I can see only one, disadvantage to dumping Norman Lamont but it is of the utmost gravity. From now on, we won't dare watch Through the Keyhole for fear of seeing his little pug face on the 'celebrity panel'. As long as pols are pols, they are safely corralled within the news programmes, but as soon as they are sacked and sign on the celebrity dole, they become as nightmarishly ubiquitous as, say, Alan Coren or Frances Edmonds. I still haven't forgotten the squirm-making embarrassment of Neil Kinnock's appearance on Clive Anderson Talks Back, or Sir David Steel's on Have I Got News For You, while there is hardly a programme that is safe from David Mellor. Wagging their tails, snuffling like truffle hounds on the scent of self-exposure, they have all the eagerness to please of Miss World contestants, but none of their intelligence and charm. The only pol who has successfully made the transition is Lord Parkinson who, having seemed a total pillock throughout his Ministerial career, is now a perfectly acceptable C-list celeb. But I doubt this could ever happen to Norman Lamont.

SO IS Princess Diana going to become a Catholic, as the Daily Mail maintains? I trotted round to Pimlico to ask my new best friend, Lady Colin Campbell. (Perhaps it is a bit premature to call her my best friend because we only met this week, but I have high hopes.) Lady Colin is the author of Diana in Private and a new and even more sensational work, The Royal Marriages (see the Sunday Review) so she is supposedly au courant with these things. Moreover, she is a Catholic and has a photograph of herself meeting the Pope on her wall. She fields my question with perfect aplomb: 'Well, all I would say, speaking as someone whose great-uncle was the Maronite Patriarch - which as you know is one of the two great Roman Catholic pontiffs, the other being the Pope in Rome - all I hope is that the Catholic Church doesn't become a complete circus, the way the Royal Family has done since that woman was unleashed.'

As so often with Lady Colin, one feels this doesn't quite answer the question, but one cannot be her friend without a certain tolerance of ambiguity. Most ambiguous of all is her medical history (she attended an all-boys school in Jamaica) but her character, too, is enigmatic. She can be very dignified and very kind; many friends attest to her warmth and generosity; she talks seriously of her spiritual values and says 'God bless' on parting. But when she talks about the Argylls and particularly her ex-husband, Lord Colin Campbell, she rants like a fishwife. She is suing the Daily Express, the Sunday Express, the Evening Standard (twice), and the Daily Mirror for repeating his remarks about her and claims to be looking forward to her day in court: 'I am happy to sing like a bird. I want to unleash George Carman on them. It's a sight I can't wait to see.' (Nor can any of us: the Lady CC libel trial promises to be the hottest Fleet Street ticket since the great Peregrine Worsthorne v. Andrew Neil knockout.)

Even her looks are ambiguous - in repose, her face is rather stern and horsey but then it breaks into a wonderfully girlish gummy smile. Normally, she tells me, she wears sweaters and leggings and glasses - 'I look quite writerish actually' - but the day I met her she was wearing a very short skirt, a glittering silver bodice and a sea-anemone hat. She explained that she had just been to a charity bash 'called the Fleur des Fleurs, where we all show off our Ascot outfits - of course I don't wear my real Ascot outfit because then everyone would have seen it, but one from a few years back.' These mysterious charity events form a constant theme of her conversation and apparently provide the aristocratic 'sources' that supply the material for her books.

She is irritatingly coy on the subject of money: 'I can appreciate that it is your duty to ask but you will appreciate that I would be an awful scrubber if I told you.' At all events, she has made enough from Diana in Private 'not to have to keep running to my family with my hand out - which is agreeable.' Had she ever, I asked rather tentatively, had anything so banal as a job? Oh yes, she said, in the Seventies she had several quite ordinary jobs - for instance, she was social secretary to the Libyan Ambassador in London 'until Colonel Gaddafi advised me to leave because the political situation was making it embarrassing.' And has she ever been hard up? 'Well, put it this way. There have been times when I've been broke but I've never been poor. Because I always had value, even when I didn't have the readies.'

The press has displayed a rare unanimity in rubbishing her. Her first book contained a long and impressive list of acknowledgements, several of whom, such as Nigel Dempster and Dame Barbara Cartland, subsequently denied ever speaking to her. Consequently her present book has no acknowledgements at all. So how does she know that Fergie is in a self-help group recovering from substance abuse? 'Oh everyone knows.' And it is true that Lady C published much the same allegations as Andrew Morton three months before Morton, and predicted the Waleses' separation.

And will she write another royal book? 'I rather think not. I'm royalled out . . . I do hope that no one makes it worth my while]'

I RASHLY agreed to a friend's request to give a talk on journalism as a career at St Paul's Girls' School. My little lecture went rather well, I thought: I hammered home the lesson that it didn't matter how humble your starting point in journalism - Penthouse, Gas World, Muckspreaders' Weekly - just get in and get on. Barely had I sat down than a rather agitated-looking parent leapt to his feet: 'As the editor of Muckspreaders' Weekly . . .'