Pandora: Bernard-Henri Lévy, French gift to Georgia

Monday 18 August 2008 00:00 BST

The Americans have sent blankets and the Estonians doctors, but it is the French, surely, who have come to the rescue of South Ossetia's people, with their offer to send nouveau philosophe Bernard-Henri Lévy.

One of a brigade of intellectuals dispatched from Paris, Lévy has made quite an impression at the Tbilisi Marriott, where he is ensconced with an entourage of personal cameraman, photographer, publicist and bodyguard.

"It's not too difficult to spot them," says a fellow guest. "They are all loafing around in the foyer puffing clouds of smoke, and gesticulating meaningfully. BHL is in his element going around in a crumpled white shirt, hair coiffed into a sort of wind tunnel effect, and reeking of perfume." Pressed as to his purpose in entering the war zone, Lévy stresses his visit wasn't mere tokenism. "I am an involved intellectual," he insists. "I came because I think the stakes are huge."

It isn't, in fact, the first time that he has engaged in international diplomacy. As well as positioning himself as a key negotiator in the Bosnian conflict, Lévy recently travelled to Darfur.

Perhaps it is his experience with grim detail of warfare that has helped him look on the bright side.

"There is one not-so-bad thing to come out of thisconflict," he notes philosophically. "And that is that Georgia is now on the map."

Ruthie Henshall's romance

Quite a series of revelations from West End starlet Ruthie Henshall on yesterday morning's Desert Island Discs. Chatting to presenter Kirsty Young she spoke in detail about her five-year relationship with Prince Edward, describing herself as "genuinely in love with him".

The actress, pictured, now happily married, claims the relationship lasted "solidly for a couple of years" but continued "on and off" for five. Sadly, she was forced to call off the romance so as to continue her career. "I was very aware that I couldn't do what I do for a living if I stayed with him."

Andrew's protégé

Curious rumours from the Edinburgh Festival production of Only The Brave. The show has hauled in the crowds, thanks to its star Keith Jack, the Scottish runner-up in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Any Dream Will Do, the series that selects stars for West End musicals.

But, so one crew-member tells me, not all the performances have been genuine.

It was suggested the 20-year-old may have had to mime several songs. Though a spokesperson was quick to deny the claim, it's not the first time a Lloyd Webber protégé has run into trouble. Connie Fisher, winner of the show's first series, was accused of poor professionalism after cancelling several West End appearances.

Tough neighbourhood

Kidnapped in Gaza and held hostage for 114 days, Alan Johnston has faced his fair share of difficulty. But not, it would seem, enough to impress a bunch of burly Scots.

Speaking at the Edinburgh Book Festival, the BBC journalist told of how, on returning to the UK, he was confronted in a nearby pub. "They pulled me aside and warned that I 'might have lasted four months out there, but wouldn't last four minutes with them'." Needless to say, Johnston was all agreement.

What Daisy said next

Success seems to be getting to poor Daisy de Villeneuve who, after several hit books, is finding her next project a bit of a strain. The illustrator and sometime fashion designer hasn't published anything since He Said, She Said in 2005. "I've had so many approaches to write another book, but it's just so difficult," she confessed at the launch of the Sky+ HD designer box. "Especially because, before, my books were just single sentences strung together with pictures. Now they want me to put together a connected work. It's going to be hard."

Rankin minds his table manners

Ian Rankin is going out of his way to avoid controversy with his latest book, Doors Open. Revolving around a heist at the National Gallery of Scotland, the novel casts an Edinburgh College of Art principal as its villain.

But the crime writer claims he has ensured the real head of the college, Professor Ian Howard, won't be offended. "I was at a dinner sitting next to him and I got his card. I've sent him an email to warn him that he plays the villain in my book."

He hasn't always been so diplomatic. Last time Pandora saw him, he was fuming over Iain Banks's "grotesque" debut novel. Before that, it was over crime writer Val McDermid and, even earlier, over the "ridiculous" Tessa Jowell.

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