Diary – Monday 11 September 1995


Forget the statistics, forget the fact that the Bar Council is to consider banning barristers from taking on friends or relatives as “private pupils”. According to Cherie Blair, QC, wife of the Labour leader, Tony Blair, nepotism is no longer a significant problem at the bar. At last week’s launch of Robert Harris’s thriller Enigma, Mrs Blair waxed lyrically about her chambers – in which she is third woman to take silk.

“In our chambers we only take on people with first-class degrees,” she told me, “or occasionally people with 2:1s but they have to offer something else as well. The days of pulling strings are gone.” I did not quite have the courage to mention the name of Buster Cox, son of the former LWT chief, Barry, a great friend of the Blairs. (Last year, Mrs Blair was heavily criticised for awarding Cox jnr an unpaid six-month stint as a private pupil in her chambers. She responded that the arrangement with Cox was separate from the chambers pupil scheme and that Mr Cox was unpaid). But, of her own volition, Mrs Blair quashed the rumour that the Blairs and the Coxes had holidayed together in the Dordogne this summer. “Yes, I heard we were supposed to be in the Dordogne – but we weren’t even in France.”

My note last week about James Walsh, the young man at Tory Central Office who was appointed Gillian Shephard’s special adviser only to be thwarted by No 10 – a memo blocked all Central Office employees moving elsewhere in government before the general election – caught the attention of the playwright Brian Behan who has come across Walsh before. Earlier this year Walsh suggested that “meaningful action” be taken to block Arts Council funding of a play of Behan’s, when he discovered that its plot centred on a Tory prime minister having a homosexual affair with a minister. Walsh got nowhere, but Behan remains somewhat soured by the episode. Indeed, he has written to tell me that he is featuring Walsh in his new one-man show, The Begrudgers, due to run at Brighton’s Nightingale Theatre in November. “I have inserted Walsh into the plot,” he says. “He plays a censor protecting the Establishment.” Needless to say Behan is delighted at Walsh’s career upset. “He has suffered the curse of Behanism,” he says gleefully. “His agony will continue.”

Imagine, if you can, the working day of Julian Satterthwaite, 24. Mr Satterthwaite is the sole press officer for the Lib Dem MEPs – all two of them (Graham Watson and Robin Teverson). “I spend my time issuing press releases, writing articles, setting up meetings, that kind of thing,” explains Mr Satterthwaite in unenergetic tones.

Last Tuesday, however, he was provided with an exciting diversion – “the most unusual event in my career to date”. He was sent a letter bomb. “I went down to collect the second post and saw this suspicious package with psychotic handwriting on the envelope,” explains Satterthwaite. “So I opened it gingerly.”

Brave or stupid? “Well, it was exciting.” Fortunately for the would-be- martyr, the bomb, accompanied with a note stating, “Destroy the European Union by any means necessary”, was a fake. But now he and his bosses are wondering who could be picking on them in such mean style. Watson chuckles: “Finding a bomb in the mail was certainly not the first thing our London press officer expected. He tells me he’s quite happy with constructive criticism but that explosive threats are not really his cup of tea.”

Two weeks ago I told how the Oban Gathering, Scotland’s smartest reeling party, was oversubscribed this year, seriously wounding the pride of 50 hostesses. Spare bedrooms aired, new dresses purchased, they never expected to suffer the social ignominy of being refused tickets.

Now, though, they are feeling rather better.┬áThe ball, held last week, was not its usual success. Of the 400 who attended the pounds 100-a-head gathering, a number of unfortunates were struck down with chronic food poisoning. Some fear the prawn sandwiches were to blame. “I don’t know how it happened,” says one eloquent hostess, “but they rendered people so ill that for 24 hours bathrooms from Glasgow to Fort William echoed with the sounds of comestible regurgitation.”

Though he is intent on broadening the artistic awareness of his constituents, I am relieved to hear that the Lib Dem MP for Caithness & Sutherland, Robert Maclennan, knows where to stop. This weekend sees the fourth annual opening of his brainchild, the Northlands Festival, a celebration of the arts common to both Scotland and the Nordic countries. He was worried, however, by an earlier insertion into the programme of a work by the fashionable American playwright David Mamet. The fourth, much-repeated line of the intended play – Sexual Perversity in Chicago – is “Are you ****ing kidding me?” Remember: conservatism in Wick makes the residents of Tunbridge Wells seem positively modern.

“Once we saw the script,” explains the festival organiser, Alan Perrin, “we realised that it was not exactly suitable for a school hall in Thurso on a Sunday evening. The entry has now been withdrawn.”

Breaking out of the traditional fashion PR mould of short skirts, pearl earrings and silk scarves is Julietta Longcroft, 26, who, alone on that circuit, boasts a Cambridge degree. Ms Longcroft has just set up her own PR company, the Communications Store. It is the first PR/marketing company of its ilk to venture into cyberspace.

There is no fluff, no fuss and, best of all, no stream of gaudy, drivelling press releases emanating from her Savile Row offices. “I offer clients Internet facilities,” she says. “It’s cheap and it gives you a far bigger audience. Unlike most PRs, my aim is to be invisible. I can reach people all over the world without actually having to disturb them with a phone call.” No offence to the rest of you, but, as one who gets interrupted 10 times a day, what bliss!