Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Camilla suffers wasp rage

"Camilla was pestered by wasps as she entered one of the sites and took a quick swipe at the insects with the closed parasol she was carrying." So reads a PA report on the visit of Charles and his future Queen to the ancient Buddhist ruins at an archaeological site at Taxila, outside Islamabad, Pakistan.

Brutal Camilla! Has she not read EM Forster's A Passage To India? There's the moment when Mrs Moore spots a wasp on a coat peg. "Pretty, dear," she says of it, indicating her sense of the oneness of the universe; the wasp is a manifestation of Brahman in the Hindu tradition. How dare Camilla try to kill such a sacred creature.

Later Prof. Godbole thinks of Mrs Moore and a wasp and the two images "melt into the universal warmth". But the Christians in the novel are not so sure that divine bliss awaits the insect, not a nasty stinging thing like that, oh no - Camilla is a typical Christian.

It is a wonder that she was not stung to death as she waved her parasol about.

"Ted Heath cruised me"

Occasionally I do the London gay bars - you meet the most interesting people (sometimes). Take last night. I get into conversation with a man who runs his own PR consultancy. This is what he said:

"A lot of my business is with the government and politics in general. I desperately want to be a Conservative MP, I'm up for selection soon. I have always loved the Conservatives and I passionately love my country. I don't know what my chances are as a gay man, but Cameron is very accepting of this sort of thing, the party has finally grown up I think.

"I adored Thatcher. I've been cruised by two political leaders in my life - no, not Thatcher! The first was Jeremy Thorpe when I was 15. No, I didn't succumb, I've never done anything illegal. I've never even taken drugs - I'm simply against illegality. And then the next time I was cruised was by Ted Heath. But I can't say anymore on him, I really can't, there's much I could say - I've already told you too much. Who are you by the way ...?"

After that I went to another club off Leicester Square. At the bar sat a white-haired old woman surrounded by young suits.

"What you looking at then, missus?" she said.
"I know you," I replied.
"Yeah, well, buy me a vodka and tonic then."

And so I did. She turned out to be the EastEnders actress Laila Morse who plays Mo Harris - I didn't realise she was Gary Oldman's sister. We had a delightful time though I never asked her what she was doing in this pit of iniquity.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Jasper Gerard: brilliant con?

Jasper Gerard is the Observer’s “brilliant new columnist” – so brilliant in fact that he managed to lose the Sunday Times quite a pretty penny last year when he repeated some nonsense about Sir Elton John forbidding guests from approaching him at his Summer Ball.

However, let’s call libel an occupational hazard of writing a rightish-wing, celeb-rich weekly column that seems designed to make the lives of practising homosexuals as uncomfortable as possible.

Far more interesting to me is his new perch at the Observer. Was it only three years ago that Peter Preston, former editor of the Guardian, gave Gerard a bit of a kicking in the Observer for making up some colour about the late Sir Peter Ustinov? (The Observer is the sister/brother publication of the Guardian, btw).

Preston complained that readers of Gerard’s Ustinov interview in the Sunday Times (Feb 29 2003) might have been led to believe that the hack flew to Geneva and spoke to the ailing actor in his Swiss living room. Gerard claimed to be able to make out Mont Blanc from chez Ustinov while detecting a playful smile on the knight’s lips.

In fact the interview was done by phone – Preston was most exercised by this misrepresentation to the public. So was Ustinov.

On a final note, Jasper’s lead piece in the Observer yesterday read faintly anti-something the Iraq war (actually, it was hard to tell) – a stance that he didn't adopt three years ago when Ustinov condemned the planned invasion of Iraq during the interview. Gerard had in fact then “balked” (his word) at the actor’s political naivety on the topic. Now Iraq has all gone wrong.

Nice to see that Jasper is growing up (or is he?). Or has his opinion changed post-Murdoch employment?

Jamie Callum saves Sunday Express!

Yesterday’s Sunday Express splashed on Britain’s “Nuke Secrets Stolen”. It told how classified documents from the Los Alamos nuclear weapons laboratory were found at a trailer park in a drugs bust. "The secrets of Britain's Trident nuclear deterrent were feared stolen last night," the report started. Last night?

How come no follow up in today’s press? – I mean, isn’t this an apocalyptic happening? As the Sunday Express commented, Osama could get his hands on these secrets and blow us all up as we shop for Christmas presents (oh all right, I made up the festive bit). Certainly a serious security breach, one of many apparently, but was it actual new news?

No doubt this story had nothing to do with The Times report published on October 26 headlined "Los Alamos secrets are found in drug factory". The Express story was a straight lift – but with the spurious British angle stitched in for the retirees who use the paper as kitty litter.

Is the Sunday Express editor Martin Townsend now trawling for old news stories on Nexus as space-filler splashes in the absence of exclusives?

At least Mart had a Jamie Cullum promo occupying most of his front page - I can think of no other reason to buy reheated bollocks.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Screws' sex ad screw-up

A classic screw-up in the News of the World today. Turn to p56 and you'll find just two big ads. On the left-hand side of the page is a most charming promotion that offers your child the chance to be a "DVD star". Yes, just send a photo of your little darling to U R The Star and they'll scan it into a computer and then place it into a pre-formatted cartoon film. Just think, your brat can be just like Mickey Mouse!

However on the right-hand side of the same page, a bare quarter-inch away, is something very different. Horny Devil is offering hardcore DVDs "for every reader" including the "American collection of hot 'n' horny XXX DVDs". The Danish XXX DVD collection has all sorts of enticing titles that suggest gangbangs, spunk swallowing, facials, lesbian squelching and much much more. A list of sex shops is to be found less than half an inch from the U R The Star order form.

Ever wishing to be helpful, I suggest parents fold the page in half to conceal the sex ad so as to protect their vulnerable kids from such corruption. One just hopes that pester power does not draw minors to the right hand ad first. For as the Horny Devil order form requires customers to avow: "I am over 18 and agree to keep these items away from minors."

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Express' Nero strikes again

Ordinarily I would offer my sympathies to those who face redundancy. In the case of the egregious UK Daily Express, Sunday Express and the Star titles, which are about to shed a tenth of their editorial workforce, I'll make an exception. To be free of the scandalous Express owner Richard Desmond is a blessing - a liberation from tyranny and a Nero-esque management.

This is the man who sponged £52m - or £1m a week - off his own newspapers in 2004-5 and has given back to the Daily Express a succession of fabricated Diana death splashes despite the actual news agenda on any given day: an insult to its readers, an insult to the memory of Diana whose name alone is now used by Desmond for those micro-sales spikes (usually on Mondays) that fail to disguise circulation decline.

The sadness is that the Express titles can still boast considerable editorial talent dispersed here and there. But to what end? Desmond must be some kind of karmic punishment on the Express for the sins of the great and over-powerful Beaverbrook - a demented, pointless howl before oblivion.

How right the Mail editor Paul Dacre was to denounce this useless, leeching, pornographer in Press Gazette this week. Even the lying grim reaper David Montgomery would have been preferable to Desmond - at least he has some semblance of understanding of newspapers and some concern for what readers appreciate; even if he too despises journalists.

If the law took its course without partiality Desmond would be in jail now for his physical assaults on his staff - all documented elsewhere. Who will ever forget reports of his Basil Fawlty-style Hitler goose-stepping in front of Telegraph executives a few years back?

Thank you New Labour for waving through this unreconstructed hooligan's ownership: his money on you was well spent even if he now reviles you. What is it about Blair that everything he touches turns to shit?

I asked a friend this week, who's unconnected with newspapers: What do you think of the Express? "It's an after-thought, isn't it," she replied without taking breath. That said it all.

PS On Oct 15 the Sunday Express reported that Liz Taylor was to marry for the ninth time. Her intended was her long-term photographer and pal, Firooz Zahedi. This news was repeated all over the world, and by the BBC which still cravenly repeats whatever emanates from anything that has the status of a "national newspaper".

Yesterday Miss Taylor denied she was planning to take a ninth husband. Of Zahedi she said: "We are not, never have been and will never be romantically involved."

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Indy's odd business bedfellow

I recently wrote about the Independent and its dodgy "World Report" supplement on Botswana (see worldreport-ind.com).

This hyped up the country's diamonds industry and its heavenly marriage with De Beers but failed to mention the 1000 or so Bushmen shoved against their will from their homelands into resettlement camps to make way for the mines. It read like a vanity report on behalf of the Botswana government and De Beers.

Of equal interest is the mysterious company behind this and many other World Report supplements, World Report International Ltd registered at 2 Old Brompston Rd, London, SW7.

Who actually owns this?

A search at Companies House fails to answer this conclusively. A trail takes you to its intermediate parent company AFA Press UK Ltd (at 1 King St, London, EC2) which in turn is owned by an entity called the Cresent (sic) Trust - presumably Crescent Trust - registered in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands.

Company secretaries and directors of both World Report Intl and AFA are named unhelpfully as "Joint Secretarial Services" and "Joint Corporate Services" - both based at AFA's 1 King St. All very unilluminating.

I am indebted to a Ray Corbis who has written a fascinating online report at the Felix Salmon website (see below) on this curious web of companies (and more) that produce "special reports" supplements for all sorts of newspapers globally, often on behalf of governments that some may deem corrupt, tyrannical or in some way morally compromised.

First, he identifies a number of websites very similar to worldreport-ind.com - such as unitedworld-usa.com, summitreports.com, universalnews-us.com, etc. All have produced government "special reports" for newspapers such as the UK Daily Telegraph, New York Times and USA Today. All are registered at AFA's 1 King St. And he has discovered that every last website is registered using the same IP location (Fujitsu internet Spain).

Peculiar subjects of these spun "special reports" include Libya, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. In the case of stricken Rwanda, an expensive 12-page supplement was recently placed in the New York Times Magazine promoting the country's highly improbable tourist industry - produced by Summit Communications, a Crescent Trust company.

Summit Communications runs some friendly video interviews on their website. "One is with Joseph Kabila, tinpot dictator of Congo, but the prize goes to the oddest video I've seen in ages, an interview that had my jaw drop to the floor -- with Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha, the architect of the war in Sudan," claims one writer at Felix Salmon, Stefan Greens.

Corbis reveals links between the Crescent Trust and a company called Missions World (which issued shares to AFA and other linked companies). He then makes serious, unproven, allegations of fraud and racketeering against Crescent Trust's United World and senior post-holders at the newspaper USA Today in relation to lucrative "special reports".

But who is behind this mind-boggling set-up? Step forward Argentinian businessman Alberto Llaryora. He seems to excite very different responses - some think he's a mafia devil, others a charming chap who's running a legitimate empire. Even Madame Arcati will refrain from repeating certain things he is accused of. She will nonetheless endeavour to make contact with him since she wouldn't want him unfairly maligned.

One correspondent, identified only as "flimsy", claims to have worked for a Crescent company and in a long detailed post writes: "They call themselves journalists and claim that they want to 'portray the positive image of country XYZ' while all they care about is to make as much money from advertising as possible, while being more than willing to compromise their 'independent reporting'."

I do not say that the Crescent Trust is a corrupt business, not at all. But the complexity of Mr Llaryora's off-shore business set-up naturally gives rise to grave suspicions about motives and financial practices. Considerable profit, after all, is being made from some off-colour types.

Why not opt for corporate transparency?

And maybe the Indy needs to think twice about running reports by a corporate hydra that attempts to launder the reputations of certain despots (while perhaps nonetheless bringing business to client poor countries). After all, it's the Indy's good name that Crescent Trust companies are hiring to add that special moral gloss on their special reports.

To be continued..... For more read:


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Vidal blasts his biographer

The posting below on Gore Vidal draws me again to his second memoir Point To Point Navigation: A Memoir. On Amazon.com, Publishers' Weekly reports that Vidal has used his book, due out Nov 9 in the UK, to have a go at his biographer Fred Kaplan whom he dismisses as "sex obsessed" and "dull".

Perhaps this is revenge for what Kaplan has said of working with Vidal on the life.At http://www.beatrice.com/interviews/fredkaplan/ he's asked: What sort of direct tension did you experience with him? Kaplan replied:

"One of the topics that almost always produced tension was sexuality. As I describe it in the book, there's that moment where we'd been talking for a long period of time and I asked him if two people whose names had come up had ever slept together. He exploded: 'Kaplan, I'm getting sick and tired of questions about who slept with who! You'll never understand how we work, what our sexual life is about! You're just too straight, bourgeois, too inexperienced in that world, and I fear for what it is you'll write about my sexuality!'"

The Galloway Castro party

To George Galloway's launch party for his Fidel Castro Handbook at Portcullis House at the Commons last night. A smaller man than I imagined, about 5ft 8in and leaner than his full, somewhat flat face might suggest. Size 7 feet shod in cheap black shoes.

One day this man will drop dead while giving a speech and yet still finish it, perhaps even as rigor mortis sets in. His loquacity is phenomenal, his voice that of the Old Testament Yahweh ready to give good thundering. After a boring, halting speech by the Cuban ambassador, paying tribute to our hero and Castro, George got up on the podium and showed us how it's done. Marvellous oratory, sublime nonsense about the Cuban shangri-la, its lack of racism etc. No mention of human rights abuses (but then the US can't talk).

He told one good story. "I went to the London School of Economics and delivered a speech. I likened the relationship between Britain and America to that between Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Unfortunately, Miss Lewinsky was in the audience .... "

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Vidal and Capote in one

I can picture the scene. There he is, the literary Tiberius in embroidered slippers, a rotund octogenarian man of letters seated in his "modest" mansion set in the Hollywood Hills, the azure of the Gulf of Salerno a recent nostalgia.

So there he is in a leather upholstered armchair and there's Vanity Fair magazine just arrived in the post. This issue holds a little more interest than usual to him: it features an excerpt from his second memoir Point To Point Navigation (due out November). He turns the silky scented pages (his eyes alight on a Kate Moss mug in every other ad - "silly bitch," he sighs). Suddenly the magazine falls from his grip, his face now a crimson, contorted mask of wrath at what he's just spotted in the glossy -"What?" he shouts. "What? Fuck me!"

Well, I imagine that's what Gore Vidal said to himself when he opened the November issue and discovered that the mag contained not just his piece of beautiful writing but also a fragment of exclusive lyrical prose by his old dead foe, Truman Capote. How they feuded over nothing in particular! And how cruel is life. Because while the photo of Gore betrays a noble ancient ruin before his typewriter, the pic of Truman is a product of the Tardis - a 1946 snapshot of a very young and pretty man arranged louchely on a chaise. How sweet is revenge from the grave.

I can't tell you what pleasure their two pieces gave me. Capote's is a very short memoir he wrote the day before he died 22 years ago and it's sadly unfinished. You might think from accounts of people who knew him that his mind was entirely addled by drink and drugs towards the end of his life, but nothing could be further from the truth on the evidence of this piece. He describes meeting his literary idol Willa Cather ... "Her eyes were the pale blue of a prairie dawn on a clear day," he writes. I won't quote more, but I hope you get a flavour of his style.

As for Vidal, is he not one of the greatest autobiographers that ever was? His first memoir Palimpsest stunned me with its grace and range: is there no one of significance in the past 60-odd years whom he has not met? Unusually for a master egotist he is quite capable of leaving the stage, as it were, and bathing his friends, acquaintances, enemies in a spotlight under his generous direction: hence the brilliant anecdotes. He removes himself but is ever present through depth and clarity of observation. And he's funny.

His VF piece on his friendship with Federico Fellini is a virtuoso illustration of this - "Although Fred was hardly a hermaphrodite," he writes of the Italian film director, "he was certainly a phallophobe in a culture rooted in phallophilia. He had even done a book of caricatures of phalluses with such labels as 'the happy cock', 'the snobbish cock', 'the angry cock'. He entertained ladies with these drawings".

At 81 he writes and recalls as well as he ever did. And though dead, Capote reminds us of what he could do - but did do all too sporadically.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Russell Brand's "comely" fan

The Indy's guest media diarist Guy Adams reports that a certain "comely broadsheet columnist" went to bed with Russell Brand after being sent to interview the satyr last February. Adams refrains from naming the woman or newspaper because he's a gent.

It was in fact the Telegraph's Bryony Gordon.

A Telegraph reader of her recent piece on Heather Mills McCartney asked: "Why is this drivel appearing in my cherished newspaper? It's just page-filler nonsense. Who hired Bryony Gordon, and why?"

I can't answer all that but the fact she's the daughter of Sunday Mirror columnist Jane Gordon and aged 25 will not have been unhelpful in these anti-ageist and meritocratic times.

Blair: Fleet St's flops

On Iraq the admirable Henry Porter asked in The Observer yesterday: "Why is Tony Blair still Prime Minister after leading his country into such a disastrous war? Any large company would by now have got rid of a managing director guilty of a mistake on that scale. Any institution you care to name would have done the same. Why is Blair immune from the normal requirements of high office?"

The answer is simple. No mainstream newspaper has formally called for Blair's impeachment - beyond the cacophony of columnists and bloggers who merely vent opinion and cancel each other out. And it would require a serious, sustained, newspaper campaign - with a proprietor's full backing - in the absence of any serious move within the Labour Party to overthrow Blair.

And no paper is likely to call for Blair's impeachment quite simply because there is no real sense of moral outrage in Fleet St at what's happened and happening in Iraq. On the day The Lancet reported that some 600,000 Iraqis had probably died to date, most of the papers were preoccupied with the ishoo of why Michael Jackson had dressed up as a woman in St Tropez - except it wasn't Jacko, but a hoaxer.

Each of the national newspaper titles seems stymied from going for the kill for various different reasons:

Daily Mail - demands Blair's resignation every day but has not called for any legal move against the PM over Iraq. Maybe because the Mail owner Lord Rothermere is friends with Tony and Cherie and would not countenance an editorial campaign for constititional or legal action. See the November edition of Vanity Fair for more on Rothermere and his lovely, new Dorset country pile in a feature by baubles expert Kate Reardon.

Daily Express - managed to trivialise The Lancet report into an obscene news item of about 15 short lines. That sums up this pathetic once great newspaper whose USP is Diana conspiracy fictions.

Daily Telegraph - irrationally supported the Iraq invasion and now calls for UK withdrawal because that's the fashion right now. Lost credibility over the Galloway libel case: perhaps new editor Will Lewis can restore some moral or political coherence when he's not obsessing over new media (as opposed to the message).

The Times, Sunday Times, Sun, News of the World - Murdoch's stable: only the Sunday Times has given Blair a few problems, but Murdoch would never OK an impeachment campaign against useful ally Blair. He gave his blessing to Iraq and now considers Muslims a grave threat (see The New Yorker interview story in past post).

The Independent - Robert Fisk describes tirelessly the futility of the Iraq war but this has not translated into a proactive campaign against Blair's position. The suspicion is that a paper that blacks up Kate Moss for its Africa edition probably is morally soft-focused. Editor Simon Kelner is temperamentally too much the Soho boulevardier to take his paper into hardcore controversy.

The Guardian - a hugely critical supporter of Labour but pulls its punches on Blair. Inching to the right.

The Mirror - editor Richard Wallace is Mr Showbiz. The paper just goes through the motions of supporting Labour but its heart's not in it anymore and it would never find the confidence to maintain a serious fight against Blair.

Financial Times - doesn't count, so to speak.

The Observer - ironic that Porter's piece appeared here given that the paper supported the Iraq invasion. Editor Roger Alton has said post-Iraq disaster: "I think Blair has done a fantastic job." A love that dares to speak its name. Like the Guardian, inching, if not yarding, to the right.

McCartneys and McGear

More delicious revelations from the McCartneys' PR war this weekend - I like the Ketchup bottle story especially and the report that the divorce papers published in the Mail were not put into court, they were an early draft - but no mention yet of Heather's past association with Macca's brother Mike "Lily the Pink" McGear (see previous Sept post). A very prominent PR figure is part-attributing the break-up of the marriage to McGear as well as claiming that Linda McCartney hated blow-jobs, the one thing that irritated Macca. As I say a very very big PR is saying all this so it's bound to surface sometime soon.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

AA Gill: Racist gets off

Alas, AA Gill has been cleared of racial discrimination against Albanians by the compromised and hopeless Press Complaints Commission.

In the increasingly gaunt-looking Sunday Times Magazine - losing ads to the much better ST Style mag due to the latter's longer lead times - Gill had described Albanians as "short and ferret-faced, with the unisex, stumpy, slightly bowed legs of Shetland ponies." The PCC says that hacks can be robust and provocative, so that's all right then.

The Albanian complainant would have done better to take a long hard look at the person of Adrian Gill and tell us what hit his eyeballs. Having had the opportunity to observe Gill, the master of prose souffle, at close quarters, I can report the following: "An epicene failed male model pushing 50 with legs as thin as a dominatrix's rattan cane. Kate Moss would kill for pins such as his."

I particularly like Piers Morgan's observation of Gill "obsequiously smarming" around Madonna on one occasion. And his account of lunch with Gill's girlfriend, the journalist Nicola Formby, who showed him pornographic photos of herself cavorting naked on a bed. "You could see everything," said Morgan, "and the poses were explicit. Ms Formby sprawled here, Ms Formby's legs akimbo there, Ms Formby thrusting her bottom everywhere. She obviously thinks she's an absolute sex kitten, but I fear the mists of time have taken their toll a little too much."

I wonder who took the pics? I can't recall.

Press Gazette

Madame Arcati is never happier than when she spots signs of her influence far and wide, and so she congratulates Press Gazette for echoing her thoughts on Sarah Sands in an editorial today: her interview with General Sir Richard Dannatt for the Mail was indeed unwitting revenge on the Telegraph - though the actual point was that she had been dismissed as a political lightweight by the likes of the ever-omniscient Andrew Neil, fit only for tree-hugging features.

On the subject of Press Gazette, I am distressed to see that its excellent Axegrinder gossip column would appear to be in peril. It's had to run three apologies in the latest edition - I see the Sun's Rebekah Wade has cancelled its PG subscriptions in a rage over something trifling. The child spirits that are journalists cannot bear the treatment they mete out to others: surely proprietor Piers Morgan must have known this.

Much as I rather enjoy parts of Press Gazette - though the Press Cadets should be lined up and shot - the magazine's raison d'etre is rather anachronistic these days. Who cares about the British Press Awards with its narrow inclusiveness? There's a big world out there, Piers, beyond the prematurely-aged workaholics who happily plunder the net for leads, ideas and energy.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

McCartneys: Clifford vs Hall?

Three items on this topic:

Heather on TV this morning
Coincidentally, the very morning that the Mail details Heather McCartney Mill's case against Paul in their divorce case, she pops up on BBC1's City Hospital to talk about her latest bone op and how something called therapeutic magnetic resonance is helping her through the undoubted physical agony.

Asked about the coincidence she tells host Nadia Sawalha: "I was coming on the programme anyway."

Then she relates how she used to have to crawl to the loo for a piss at night. Much the same is said in her divorce papers. She claims Paul would not let her have an antique bedpan under their bed to save her crawling to the bathroom at night, saying it would be like "an old woman's home".

Of latest travails she adds: "Just because you put on a brave face doesn't mean you're not suffering. You have to have a sense of humour or you would go mad."

Heather's PR
I notice that Heather's PR is Phil Hall - the former editor of News of the World and a former colleague of Max Clifford - the latter's quite friendly with Paul and has been going around relating a very strange story about Heather that's probably actionable. I also notice that the Mail says the divorce papers were leaked to it ... now, who benefits from this leak? ...

Macca replies
For the full report see the Mail:

Sir Paul was unavailable for official comment today but a close source vehemently denied the accusations made in the papers lodged in the High Court's family division. The source also accused Ms Mills's public relations team of "orchestrating the leak to maximise sympathy for her."

The source said: "This is coming from a woman with a well-documented problem with the truth. This document was leaked with the very specific intention in mind of damaging Paul's reputation and trying to hurt Paul.

"She has conducted a whole orchestrated PR campaign throughout of photocalls, leaked stories and now this. Paul denies this version of events completely.

"The suggestion for instance he stabbed her with a wine bottle is an outrageous accusation which is designed to damage his reputation and hurt him.î Geoff Baker, McCartney's former publicist, said: "Heather Mills is a complete fantasist and I would not believe her if she told me the sun set in the West."

The Sun rolls over for Martin-Smith

The Sun today publishes an embarrassed apology to Take That's former manager Nigel Martin-Smith. It's all part of the great Robbie vs Nigel war that's been renewed by the singer's vicious song The Nineties on his new album Rudebox.

In the song, Williams details how he fantasised about gouging the pop mogul's eyes out during his time with the chart-topping boy band. He sings: "Either you're a thief or you're shit, which one will you admit to? Such an evil man, I used to fantasise about taking a Stanley knife and playing around with your eyes."

Here's the Sun cut 'n' paste:

On September 4th and 14th we wrote about "The Nineties", a song written by Robbie Williams for his soon to be released album.

The first piece carried quotes from the song and quotes from Robbie himself which alleged that Nigel Martin-Smith, who used to manage Take That, either stole the profits from a European tour or incompetently failed to make any and lied to the band when they asked about it.

In fact, there is absolutely no truth in these allegations. The European tour did make money, the band were paid and the accounts were scrutinised by accountants and found to be unimpeachable.

We sincerely apologise to Nigel Martin-Smith for the distress caused by publishing these allegations and have agreed to pay him compensation.

McCartneys: Murdoch rag's low blow

Somehow the UK Daily Mail has got hold of Heather McCartney's divorce court papers in which she accuses Sir Paul of launching violent attacks on her, heavy drinking, drug taking and generally abusive behaviour towards her. He denies everything. No mention of his brother in all this - see previous post. The following item caught my eye as an example of how the so-called quality press are just as vulgar and low as the tabs these days:

"The petitioner promised the respondent that he would protect her and support her in relation to adverse press reports but has failed to do so on numerous occasions, when he has been in a position to do so.

"In mid-November 2004 the respondent was warned that a forthcoming article about her was to appear in the Sunday Times magazine and included the line 'the best thing that ever happened to Heather Mills McCartney was losing her leg' which was distressing and vulgar press commentary.

"As the petitioner had been asked to participate in the half-time entertainment for the Superbowl on Fox TV owned by Rupert Murdoch (who also owns the Sunday Times), the respondent asked the petitioner to tell Mr Murdoch that he would not confirm his participation in the Superbowl unless he agreed not to run the deeply unpleasant story.

"However, the petitioner refused to assist the respondent in this way, announced his involvement in the Superbowl and therefore the Sunday Times had no reason not to publish the story.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Malawi: UK holds up trials

Now that Malawi is the new - ooh, let's see, ok - Madge crucifix thing, time to take a closer look at this country.

One extraordinary fact is that murder trials there have been suspended for over two years now due to lack of funds. The precise number of suspects awaiting trial is unknown but it's thought to be over 1,000. Regrettably the UK is largely to blame.

Malawi's Nation Online reports that in 2004 the UK's Department for International Development withheld a £435,000 donation that had been allocated to clear the backlogue of homicide cases between 2004 and 2006. Concern over "operational costs" was the reason given. Meanwhile hundreds of possibly innocent people languish in jails.

If the UK can't get its act together perhaps Madonna would like to sort this out as well. What's half-a-million quid to a woman worth £300m? (Or is it £200m? Who knows?).

Monday, October 16, 2006

George Michael South Bank Show

ITV1's South Bank Show will honour George Michael on Oct 31 2006 with a "Special" that marks the star's 25 years as a "global pop icon". In an interview filmed over two months, with backstage production footage, he talks about everything from marijuana and Rupert Murdoch to sex and ... Rupert Murdoch. I wonder what he'll say about the old, homophobic, bullying bastard.

Meantime, a few excerpts from the interview:

"If I'd drunk as much I'd smoked - my god I'd look like Keith Richards"

"Led Zeppelin are my favourite rock group of all time - they sound like they know how to have sex"

"As the years go by, Mr Blair is making Shoot The Dog a word perfect protest song"

Media Useful Fucks: part 1

The News of the World moozik gossip Rav Singh's sex life is not of any great interest to me even if he does resemble a rent boy with good teeth. But it's heartening to learn that his current shag is Marion Morgan, the soon-to-be-ex-wife of Piers Morgan, former Mirror editor and current proprietor of Press Gazette (my thanks to the Indy media diary for this information, the Nigel Dempster de nos jours).

Heartening because I always approve of using one's sex life to advance one's career even if love or lust or whatever is the, er, MacGuffin (cineastes will understand what I mean by this).

Sometime before Mrs Morgan there was of course the Spice/Westlife PR Caroline McAteer with whom Rav squelched at the useful height of her pernicious influence. One wonders what the ex-Mrs Piers can do for his career.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Sands' revenge on the Barclays

Revenge is a dish best served cold, it is said. But I prefer: Revenge is a dish best called success.

No better illustration of this can I find than in the current furore over the UK Daily Mail's spectacular interview with the new Chief of the General Staff, Sir Richard Dannatt. He said the British presence in Iraq is aggravating the slaughter and we should pull out soon. Blair's perspiring madly. But that's not the revenge bit.

The revenge is that of the person who conducted the interview with Sir R. Step forward Sarah Sands, some sort of consultant editor on the paper. But her previous job was the editorship of the Sunday Telegraph before she was toppled several weeks ago in humiliating circumstances by its owners, the "Scaramanga" Barclay twins, who gave up on her after just a few months: she had tried very hard to sex-up the old codgers' improvised duvet much to the fury of the incontinent. She was regarded privately as a political bantam weight better suited to lifestyle puffery.

Now Sands find herself as catalyst of one of the UK's biggest political stories of the year and I bet she never saw it coming. Her "revenge" on the Brecquou-bound Barclays is exquisite for its lack of intention: fate handed her an opportunity and did she use it! The Telegraph titles desperately want to muscle in on the Mail market, so ... a piquant moment for Sands.

Madonna's Kabbalah adoption

Much of the coverage of Madonna's adoption of 18-month-old Malawian boy Davie has been deservedly critical, but tending to harp on the use of her mega-celebrity to pluck a new pet at break-neck speed. One report claims she picked Davie for his photogenic quality: if true this is a shrewd move given the aesthetic tastes of newspapers and magazines.

More interesting is the fact that she will be building a Kabbalah orphanage in Malawi at a personal cost of $3m. A little reported fact is that she's doing this under the aegis of the Kabbalah-oriented charity Raising Malawi. While I wouldn't question Madge's compassion, one can't help but see that the adoption and the orphanage are also part of a marketing exercise for Kabbalah in a largely Roman Catholic country. The ever-proselytising Pope must be most displeased.

The majority of her charitable donations goes to the Kabbalah Centre these days: in 2005 she gave its Spirituality for Kids organisation $268,106 and $184,250 to the Centre itself. In constrast she managed $10,000 for the Aids Project Los Angeles. The money cascades tax-free from her Ray of Light Foundation.

Still, if religion is the price of saving life in this shit world, so be it.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Boy George slags Culture Club

The UK Vodaphone Live Music Awards at London's Roundhouse Muse had a lively debut.

Boy George was seen screaming "chavs" and throwing wine at a bunch of "fans" who interrupted his interview with IRN. Later he slagged off singer Sam who's replaced him in the Culture Club line-up.

He told Teletext's music writer John Earls: "I went to MySpace and had a listen. He can't sing. Those songs are my lovers, he's got no right to go anywhere near them. It'd be backwards for me to rejoin Culture Club and that garbage proves it."

Girls aloud admitted to nerves before their performance. They did all right but the night belonged to Razorlight who won Best Live Impact and Best Live Music DVD.

Murdoch's war on Muslims and Iran

Fascinating profile of Rupert Murdoch in The New Yorker by John Cassidy. Fascinating for what other media have chosen not to amplify beyond his balancing cups of tea with Blair and Brown. First there's Rupe's take on Muslims:

"We keep having to speak politically correctly about it, saying Muslims are wonderful, it’s just a tiny minority. They are not all terrorists, of course, but the frightening thing is that it is the children of those good original immigrants who are being brainwashed in big numbers."

So where does that line of reasoning take us? I hope his arselick editors are taking note.

Then the Pol Pot of global multi-media brings out his toy soldiers on Iran:

"Murdoch takes a hard line on Iran, too: he supports the idea of threatening military strikes to prevent the Ahmadinejad regime from acquiring enriched nuclear material. 'There are no easy solutions,' he said. 'We can’t invade the place, so it’s a matter of bombing and probably killing an awful lot of people. If you could really end the nuclear program for good, you might be forced to do that. It would be a lesson to other countries.'"

"Probably killing an awful lot of people" - what a line!

Tennant to ditch Doctor Who?

Actor David Tennant has gone mysterious on whether he'll continue as Doctor Who. Asked by Doctor Who Online about whether he'll do a third series he replies:

"It's difficult to judge, because there's an element of being in a long-running show that's a gamble, because I am 35 now, and if I stayed in this for as long as it was humanly possible, I'd still have to have some kind of a career at the other end of it, so it's judging when is the right moment to go. I think I now know how many series I'm going to do, and Russell, Julie, and I have talked about it, and will continue to talk about it, but I think it would be stupid of me to say more than that right now - anything can happen, and everything can change..."

Sounds to me like he's plotting his exit lest he ends up typecast. I'd say he'll do a third series then hop off into his Tardis for a career of post-Who anti-climax. I do know he's just signed up to star in British tragi-comedy movie Cheerful Weather for The Wedding which starts shooting May 2007.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Pete Burns: Emergency Ward 100+

A TV show to look out for in the UK is Pete Burns' Cosmetic Surgery Nightmares coming soon to ITV1. The Dead Or Alive star - recently back in the news thanks to Celebrity Big Brother and the odd court appearance - has had over 100 reconstructive ops since his own plastic surgery went disastrously wrong. In the show he offers many cautionary tales to aspiring lift 'n' tuck mugs.

Moss' blacking up prompts race row

The blacking up of Kate Moss for Giorgio Armani's "guest-edited" edition of The Independent the other week (see previous posting) has been criticised by website blacklooks.org.

Under the category of Racism, the site headlines its report with: "We dont want a real black woman - i mean nah! so we got kate moss and painted her black instead." One of many commentators, Sokari, writes:

"This is even more disturbing as it is part of a trend for white celebrities to use Blackness and Africa in this insiduous way. Whether it is Jolie acting the part of a woman of colour or Paltrow 'dressing up as an African woman' and defining herself as such or Moss. It seems to me that there is a shift in the boundaries of racism whereby it is acceptable for whiteness to appropriate and act out blackness in these ways. African and Blackness has always been consumed through art, dress, music and so on but now it has gone beyond that to our identities. I would not be surprised if painting yourself black becomes a fashion trend like dreadlocks. I dont know how but I think these are issues we need to challenge ."

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Galloway's pretty Castro book

George Galloway's Fidel Castro Handbook crashes onto my desk - for a small book it's physically very weighty, likely to cause much damage or injury if dropped from a high spot.

It's cleverly and beautifully packaged as a bonsai gift book by MQ Publications, too heavy (literally) as a stocking filler or a loo read, and just too pretty as a socialist billet doux to the Cuban leader: homo-erotic doesn't begin to describe George's love for Fidel and his revolution. But its mirror-effect front cover typography would make it an attractive, free-standing light reflector, casting pretty word patterns upon a cocktail cabinet if positioned beneath a recessed spotlight, or whatever.

Its 400-odd pages (fabulously illustrated by the way) yield no space for coverage of Cuba's less than exemplary human rights record, a fact that implicity causes Mr Galloway no unease whatever. Human Rights Watch reports:

"The Cuban government systematically denies its citizens basic rights to free expression, association, assembly, movement, and a fair trial. It restricts nearly all avenues of political dissent, and uses police warnings, surveillance, short term-detentions, house arrests, travel restrictions, criminal prosecutions, and politically-motivated dismissals from employment as methods of enforcing political conformity."

What gave Tom Parker Bowles an erection?

Tom Parker Bowles is pushing his book The Year of Eating Dangerously - his chronicle of munching disgusting things.

"It started with a pea" is the first sentence - and for me the last by preference. One of the dedicatees is "Camilla Cornwall" - the Duchess of Cornwall surely? - his mummy. She's the only reason why Ebury have brought out this eye-glazingly dull and pointless book. It's a publishing trophy book, a Trojan "name" book. How sad that an editor wearing a hair band went through Oxbridge to end up editing this.

When I meet him he says he would love to have a TV food show - he declaims one interesting thing: "There is a lot of low end, bad cooking TV out there ... I could definitely live without Ready, Steady, Cook. It's terrible."

The other revelation is that although the Korean taste for dog fills him with revulsion, he wouldn't mind dining on Chihuahua - "These mutts are asking to be thrown in the pot," he writes.

Then on p218/9 things get a bit interesting - he has an erection. This is the result of eating dog soup - not Corgi presumably. "As I walk, my ego starts to swell too, engorging into a proud tumesecence. I start to imagine a Ready Brek glow emanating from every pore ... " Ready Brek? How odd. Anyway ... "The stirring of my loins ... I've discounted all the 'fucky fuck' chat as rubbish, just like any other so-called aphrodisiac. But I have to admit, I feel mighty perky."

He then goes to bed but fails to say whether he has a wank before sleep.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Russell Brand's scrotal shave guide

Oh my! The Heat 2007 Annual arrives! Lovely pictures, zany interviews! What a mag! Russell Brand's asked what body hair he's removed. Reply (children turn away ... ):

"None! But it's good manners to trim your pubic hair. I don't remove it, though, I cultivate it. Prune it, nurture it. One of the papers said I shave my ballbag, which was strange. Someone did it to me once, but it's dangerous - you have to pull it taut and rake a razor up it. But women are more inclined to pop it in their gobs, so there is an upside."

Gilchrist the Pedalling Nazi

Rod "Umpteen Jags" Gilchrist, the retired deputy editor of the Mail on Sunday, has turned into a "Pedalling Nazi", if we are to believe the October issue of Saga Magazine. Introduced as a "mild-mannered man" by someone with a droll sense of humour, Gilchrist has penned a Confessions piece about how he becomes a raving lunatic once he's on the mountain bike his old paper gifted him - along with the high six-figure pay-off last year.

"After a lifetime of meeting deadlines, conforming at work, being responsible, being a good Boy Scout, my optimum compaction carbon-fibre frame seemingly wills me to break all society's rules. I am gripped by an overwheleming urge to behave badly," he writes. He then describes how he scatters pedestrians, ignores lollypop ladies and disobeys traffic rules that "displease me".

Age plainly has not mellowed the whippet-thin Gilchrist, it would seem. Even now the psychic among his former colleagues at Derry Street claim still to hear his shrieks and ravings, perhaps etherically impregnated into the walls forever - what Derek Acorah calls "residual energy". He wasn't a total brute in the least but it didn't take much to set off his ear-splitting tantrums - so his psycho cycling is a reassuring sign that he still hyper-ventilates with vigour.

Gilchrist's verbal assault on the grand Victoria Mather (now Vanity Fair's travel ed) back in 2004 is worth recalling. At an Argentine embassy bash he charged up to her and launched into a filthy-mouthed tirade, denouncing her for "going on television and talking cock". Mather had taken part in a BBC brekkie show criticising journos who accept travel freebies.

This must have touched a raw nerve - Gilchirst in his many years as a writing editor gained a notoriety for his Phileas Fogg ligging and was in fact banned from writing about his subsidised travels in 2004 by the Mail on Sunday. Whether he continued to write these pieces under the nom-de-plume James Fawcett I cannot comment.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Kissinger: 'Operation Breakfast'

I wake up to the blessed Bob Woodward's voice on Radio 4. He's pushing his book State of Denial which reveals that Bush has tried to cover up the undenied fact that there are 7-900 insurgent attacks in Iraq a week. Thanks to Woodward we now know that one of Bush's principal advisers on Iraq is Dr Henry Kissinger - he meets Dick Cheney about once a month, has met up with Bush about 20 times in the past 2-3 years. "Victory is the best exit strategy" is Dr Death's advice. Woodward thinks Kissinger's "fighting Vietnam all over again".

It's as well to remember that Kissinger won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1973, an outrage that even Swift might not have dared to dream up for one of his satires had he lived through the Nixon period. History amnesiacs or the neo-conned may relish the following then -taken from the New Internationalist, 2002:

"Evidence shows that Kissinger sabotaged the 1968 Vietnam peace talks which allowed the US -Vietnam War to drag on for another four years. Three million Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans were killed in that conflict. There is also proof that Kissinger personally persuaded Nixon to extend the war to Cambodia and Laos which led to another million civilian deaths. The secret bombing raids were given nauseating code names like 'Operation Breakfast'.

"After one raid, Nixon's chief of staff HR Haldeman wrote in his diary: 'Historic day, K's "Operation Breakfast" finally came off at 2:00pm... K really excited... he came beaming in with the report, very productive. 'The raids killed 350,000 civilians in Laos and more than 600,000 in Cambodia'."

Friday, October 06, 2006

The X Factor: How to sell a corset

A PR firm writes to Madame Arcati:

"The third television series of The X Factor is well underway, and on the 7th October the Judges Houses shows will be broadcast on ITV1 at 6.10pm and 8.30pm. These will feature eighties pop star Sinitta who will be appearing as a member of Simon Cowell's panel.

"The glamorous Sinitta has her own distinctive style, and what more perfect a garment could she wear than a Court Royal corset, specially designed with diamante patterns to complement her natural sparkle. 'Arpana's corset was amazing to wear, I felt curvaceous and deliciously feminine in Miami - so much so I rushed back to choose different colours and fabrics so I can wear them for other special occasions!!' says Sinitta.

"In fact, even Simon Cowell couldn't fail to notice the dramatic appeal of the corset, after Sinitta made her entrance in the outfit during the filming of the show.

"The corset has been around for over 300 years, adored and famous for its ability to reduce waists, flatter curves, and add shape to every lady .... "

I'm sure Sinitta will look very becoming in her diamante corset. But shouldn't viewers be told she's a walking advert? And I wonder how many Court Royal corset items will be appearing in the press in the next few days?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Is Kelvin a repressed homosexual?

I am distressed to see that the bloated, homophobic, racist, bullying, misogynistic Kelvin Mackenzie is not exactly setting the publishing world alight with his John Prescott Kama Sutra guide. It stands at about 20,000 in the Amazon sales charts after about a fortnight out - perhaps because the Prescott shenanigans were a great deal more comic than his cock-obsessed puerility.

I have often wondered about Kelvin. For it was during his editorship of the Sun that the paper came up with the "lunchbox" appellation for male athletes' genital bulges. What tickled him especially was the puppet show of jockstrap-free cocks and balls jiggling against Lycra shorts on the racetrack. I recall pictures of athletic lunchboxes everywhere in the paper at one point - black athletic lunchboxes especially

You could well imagine his ghastly porcine flushed face sweating profusely over slow-mo re-run footage on his box - his TV box I mean. What was it that fascinated him so much? I wonder if one of his favourite films is Deliverance.

But back to publishing. His Kama Sutra book is published by the one-time cocaine hoovering ex-People editor John Blake - his face a Mount Rushmore testament to a life spent sleepless. He's not at all a bad booksman - it was he who spotted the kerching factor in Jordan's memoirs (itself a celebrity cock size guide) and he has done much to awaken UK publishing to the tabloid trough.

The only problem with Blake is that he's not always the most enthusiatic marketing man in the world. It was a running joke for years that once he'd flogged a book extract to one of the tabs he was thereafter scarcely interested in book sales. In Kelvin's case I don't sense any Blake interest at all. For instance, go to any of the internet bookshops - Amazon, StudyNet, Tesco etc - and you won't find a single cover illustration anywhere - "No image available" is the explanation.

Tsk. Anyone might think that he'd only published Mackenzie's book as a favour to a media big-mouth.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Acorah is a con, says "ghost"

No one can quite put on a show like the Spiritualist medium Derek Acorah. His Living TV fans can't get enough of his donkey impersonations as yet another dead castle proprietor takes possession of Acorah's vocal chords. When he was on Most Haunted, his spirits' fury was usually aimed at the wild-eyed host Yvette Fielding - and with reason. She and Acorah couldn't abide each other.

Now I hear that someone else has fallen out of love with the hair-gelled mystic. Back in 1998 fellow medium and author John G Sutton "ghosted" the book The Psychic World of Derek Acorah for the medium. The book was reissued last year - but with Sutton's name missing as "co-author". What could have happened?

Over to Sutton. He recalls Acorah of the late '90s as a sensitive man, someone he respected. But no longer. He writes in Psychic World: "To the best of my knowledge he had no connections with the Spiritualist Church and was never a member in the accepted use of that term. Yet in various press interviews Acorah makes the false claim that he trained in Spiritualist Churches and is indeed a Spiritualist Medium, which is something he most certainly has never been."

Of Acorah's psychic hysterics on TV Sutton says: "People watching this twaddle may, unfortunately for Spiritualism, actually think that the man is really channeling a spirit entity through trance-mediumship. The way he fakes it makes the very idea appear ridiculous ....

"Nor have I ever seen any evidence from Derek Acorah that he can channel spirit. What I have seen amounts to a ludicrous charade played out for the benefit of the cameras in the name of making a TV show."

So no more Acorah ghost gigs for John then.

Blood diamonds are Indy's best friend

A supplement on Botswana fell out of the Independent last Saturday - a "World Report" no less - which attributes the state's wealth to diamonds and its pact with De Beers. "Thirty-three percent of GDP comes from the girl's best friend," it reports - and on the back page there's a charming tourist piece exhorting the tribal Bushmen (or San) and their videocam-friendly "unique dances".

Produced for the newspaper by World Report Inc, it is designed to look like editorial but is just a Botswana ad, depicting a shangri-la in the marriage of benign capitalism and indigenous civilisation. Yeah, right.

You have only to go to http://www.iwant2gohome.org/ to learn that 1000 Bushmen are appealing for help after the Botswana government relocated them from their ancestral lands of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve to reservation camps. This is to make way for diamond mining. Survival International reports:

The Botswana government has brutally evicted the Gana and Gwi Bushmen from their land in the Central Kalahari, and De Beers diamond company is exploring for diamonds there. The Bushmen are calling for a boycott of De Beers and Botswana diamonds until they are allowed back on their land.

SI recently asked Leonardo DiCaprio to join their campaign (he stars in The Blood Diamond out soon). And only the other week the Independent itself reported in its Pandora diary that SI approached model Linda Evangelista to step down as the face of De Beers and Harrods.

Actors Colin Firth and Julie Christie have already spoken out in support of the Bushmen. Julie Christie said, "Diamonds as the cause of misery and suffering are not a thing of the past. The Bushman evictions in Botswana are a clear demonstration that local people are still suffering because of these stones."

De Beers is a controversial presence in Botswana. At http://www.survival-international.org/ it's reported, for example:

De Beers Botswana has made a 100,000 pula ($15,000) donation directly to the country's High Court, bringing accusations of interference in the judicial system. The company has also announced plans for further donations.The gift comes as De Beers Botswana is immersed in a legal battle with the Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) over the sacking of 461 mine workers who went on strike in 2004. BMWU secretary-general Jack Tlhagale said the donation should have been made to a ministry and not directly to the High Court.

It is astonishing that the liberal Indy should have prostituted itself for blood diamond money. But then as World Report Inc comments on its website: "Our Special Reports provide a platform which enables politicians and business leaders to voice their opinions directly to a highly influential sector of the UK: the readers of The Independent newspaper."

Monday, October 02, 2006

Mr Lubbock seeks ... Veritas?

The brilliant site for literary junkies http://grumpyoldbookman.blogspot.com [click here] explores the peculiarities of a book titled Not Awight Now - Getting Away with Murder (out Oct 16). It's supposedly an examination of Stuart Lubbock's death - the guy who died at fallen TV star Michael Barrymore's house. For background see Grumpy's item.

Interestingly the book is edited and published by someone called Harry Cichy - a name that rings a bell. He was a press officer of Robert Kilroy-Silk's right-wing party Veritas and a Veritas party election official in Harlow in 2005. The Veritas 2005 general election candidate for Harlow was one Tony Bennett - the Essex lawyer who at some point represented the father of Stuart, Terry Lubbock, or the Lubbock Trust, and who tried and failed to bring a private prosecution against Michael Barrymore earlier this year.

This is the same Tony Bennett who leads the militant Active Resistance to Metrication. He's been arrested a number of times for damaging road signs and other public property in his campaign to put the Olde back in England. He's now acting secretary of the Popular Alliance party which campaigns against Europe and the Human Rights Act. His publicity agent is one ... Harry Cichy who also happens to be Terry Lubbock's publicity agent.

Of Cichy a trawl through Wikipedia - which has clearly been hijacked by the Lubbock contingent against Barrymore - reveals him to be some sort of consumer journalist and Olde Englander. Apparently he contributes to UK Whitegoods and made a bit of a name for himself over the Hoover free flights fiasco back in the '90s.

All in all Harlow sounds a happening place and Terry Lubbock would appear to have surrounded himself with some, er, very interesting people.

A date with Gest's bodyguard!

Michael Jackson's fellow bizarro pal and Liza Minnelli's estranged husband David Gest promises a "highlight of the musical year", the forthcoming London New Year's Weekend All-Star Soul Spectacular (Dec 29-31 2006).

Much more exciting than listening to the likes of Candi Staton or Bonnie Tyler though is the prize on offer to listeners of the sponsor Smooth FM in the promo competition. The winner can look forward to the David Gest luxury Hollywood holiday that includes this heady promise: "David's bodyguard will personally take them to Universal Studios."