Pandora: PA problems bug Tony Blair

Oliver Duff@olyduff
Sunday 23 October 2011 01:10

The secret paranoia of former statesmen. The former Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson memorably told two journalists: "I see myself as a big fat spider in the corner of the room. Sometimes I speak when I'm asleep. You should both listen. Occasionally when we meet, I might tell you to go to the Charing Cross Road and kick a blind man standing on the corner. That blind man may tell you something, lead you somewhere."

Tony Blair does not proclaim that MI5 bugs him. Still – we all have our twitches. At Mr Blair's lecture on "Faith and Globalisation", picketed by the Stop the War Coalition, dissatisfied rumblings grew from the back of the 1,600-strong audience at Westminster Cathedral on Thursday. Our aggrieved ex-premier thought protesters were interrupting and half-joked: "These people follow me around everywhere saying 'Out, out, out'." In fact, the public address system had broken down and no one could hear a word.

Biryani for Blears: minister is offered a ticket to Lahore

Fetch the helmet and goggles, Carruthers! Hazel Blears, the Cabinet's motorcycling Oompa Loompa, has been invited to Pakistan to accompany the businessman and Dragons' Den entrepreneur James Caan on his new project with disaffected young British Muslims.

Downing Street has asked Caan, left, to meet the Communities Secretary, right, to discuss his programme to take youths of Pakistani descent to volunteer in Pakistan with the gap-year organisation Projects Abroad.

The Lahore-born Briton claims it could assist in countering radicalism here, by cultivating a non-extremist identity: "It will help to bridge the psychological and knowledge gap between these young people and their heritage."

Caan spent 43 years away from his birthplace before "discovering" it. He has since funded schools and housing there. He will take over the first seven British Muslims next month, and this week will ask Blears if she can join them.

Any chance of support from Gordon Brown (whom Caan met at a recent Labour fundraiser) hinges on a successful meeting with Blears and, subsequently, convincing the Prime Minister's adviser on community relations, the former Bethnal Green MP Oona King.

If the incurably chipper Blears accepts Caan's invitation to the Islamic Republic – calf-length leather boots, perma-grin and all – perhaps she can return the favour and take him for a spin around the Lake District in her sidecar.

Old hobbits die hard for Sir Ian

Mop that perspiring brow, Middle Earthlings. Sir Ian McKellen ends a saga that had become as protracted as the blockbusting Lord Of The Rings film trilogy: will he return as the benevolent wizard Gandalf in the keenly-anticipated adaptation of JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit?

Sir Ian tells Pandora that he has reached advanced discussions, leaving only the paperwork to complete before he can dust off his wizard's robes: "It is sort of finished business really. I think I will be in the film." Speaking at a gala dinner for the gay rights charity Stonewall, he added: "The first film will be released in 2011 and the second in 2012. The first is The Hobbit, and the second connects the story to the [sequel] Lord Of The Rings, it brings it all together."

Sir Ian, who is 69 next month, said a fortnight ago only that he hoped to play Gandalf: "Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh [Jackson's producer partner] told me they couldn't imagine The Hobbit without their original Gandalf. Their confidence hasn't yet been confirmed by the director, Guillermo del Toro."

Last year, it was uncertain that the film would escape the Mordor-like hostilities between Jackson and the studio New Line, who were locked in battle over precious earnings. With that resolved, Jackson will executive-produce the final two instalments, production of which begins next year. The first chronicles the adventures of Bilbo Baggins as he seeks to recover treasure from the dragon, Smaug. The last will more vaguely breach the chasm between that quest and the beginning of the Rings trilogy 80 years later – a cinematic exercise requiring vigorous scriptwriting. Old hobbits die hard, ho ho.

Paddick has a bit of a paddy

Brian Paddick, a man accustomed to walking the beat, found the pace tough in an interview with Time Out magazine. The former top cop, who is running for the Liberal Democrats in London's entertaining mayoral race, lost his cool when asked about privatisation of the Tube and falling out with Sir Ian Blair, his embattled old boss at the Met. Paddick accused the journalist of "sounding like Ken Livingstone's spokesperson" and "trotting out distortions and lies".

"Shall we play the tape back and listen to what you've asked and see whether, yet again, you've been totally unreasonable?" demanded Paddick. "Stop the tape." His public relations adviser later apologised ("We've had a bit of a day") and offered to make Padick sit the whole interview again.

Paddick has not lost his sense of humour. Asked about the notches on his own bedpost , after Nick "speed limit" Clegg's flippant claim to have bedded "no more than 30" ladies, the private and gay Paddick replies: "A lot less women than Nick."

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