Diary – Monday 4 September 1995


There is turmoil verging on revolt in the normally peaceful bastion that was Tory Central Office. The thirtysomethings traditionally prepared to work for menial salaries in return for the first step towards a political career are livid. John Major has issued a confidential memo to all members of his new cabinet instructing them not to hire anyone from Central Office as their special advisers. For one man, James Walsh, 26, it is a particular blow. A month ago, Gillian Shephard rewarded him for four years of hard grind with a post as her man at Education and Employment. Three weeks ago, he held a party to celebrate. But No 10 refused to approve his promotion. He would have to stay put. Mr Major’s reasoning is that he does not want to lose any more of his young bureaucrats from their current areas of expertise in the run-up to the general election. But he has succeeded only in alienating the Central Office youngsters upon whom he professes to rely. “The whole point of working in Central Office is to gain promotion to a special advisership,” said one who works there. “To make an example out of James like this is completely terrible. People already feel badly treated because the pay is so low. Now he wants to take away the chance of promotion. It’s a complete farce.”

Still, the Major memo does not quite explain last week’s seemingly baffling appointment of the staunch right-winger and Portillo apparatchik John Bercow, 32, as special adviser to the staunchly wet Heritage Secretary, Virginia Bottomley. I, however, can.

It seems Mrs Bottomley’s shortlist of 10 contained too many well-heeled middle-class blue-stocking gals for her liking. “Peter,” she reportedly said to her plummy-toned PPS, Peter Ainsworth, MP for Surrey East, after the fifth pearl necklace, Laura Ashley dress and velvet hairband had made its appearance in the interview room, “they are all far too like you and me. I think we need a contrast.” Hence the appointment of Bercow, as happy in a shell suit – he is a qualified tennis coach – as he is in a black tie.

He escaped the curse of the Major memo because he was previously Jonathan Aitken’s special adviser, and before that worked in PR. “Ah, well,” sighed one who was disappointed not to get the job, “if anyone is going to stop her giving money to men prancing round in tights, it’s John.”

In a magazine interview last weekend the former “wild child” Amanda de Cadenet, estranged wife of the Duran Duran guitarist John Taylor, talked seriously about her plans for a career as an actress. “Being a mother on its own was just not fulfilling enough for me,” she sighed.

But I have proof that the 23-year-old has indeed long harboured keen thespian ambitions: she is pictured above, aged 12, in her first ever walk-on part as a conquistador in Benenden school’s 1984 fourth-form play, Inca. Though she did not have a leading role, Benenden seniors remember that Ms de Cadenet brought a star-like quality to the performance. “She ensured she got herself noticed,” says one, “by continually winking at the audience.”

The news that Piers Morgan, the fresh-faced youth who edits Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World, is leaving to take charge of the Daily Mirror came as no surprise to senior executives who attended Murdoch’s recent News Corporation conference on Australia’s Hayman Island. Morgan, they say, distinguished himself by the dexterity with which he kept himself out of the conference chamber and inside the bar – all week long. His obvious disinclination to suck up to the media tycoon – an unusual characteristic within the Wapping stable these days – was, says my source, “plain for all to see”.

One can perhaps understand Morgan’s feelings, though. The corporate video of the Hayman trip is an illuminating five-minute film. Set to the song “I Still Call Australia Home”, the camera settles on Murdoch, pans to Tony Blair, resettles on Murdoch, pans to his son Lachlan, resettles on Murdoch, pans to a sumptuous banquet with a vast melting ice sculpture, resettles on Murdoch, etc, etc, etc. If one weren’t conducting the same love affair as the cameraman, one can see that it might all be a bit much.

In the wake of Ray Illingworth’s ignominious dumping of the English cricket chaplain, Andrew Wingfield Digby, it is a brave clergyman who now thrusts his dog collar into the batting limelight. But marching forth to Pakistan this autumn as the manager of the England A (reserve) cricket team tour is the Rev Michael Vockins, vicar of three parishes in Herefordshire and secretary of Worcestershire Cricket Club.

Vockins, 51, is a tough cookie: more Indiana Jones than Derek Nimmo. In 1986, he led a lost touring team through the African bush in the dead of night, unarmed. “When our host found us, he was horrified to see that we didn’t have pistols,” he chuckles. “As for suffering the same fate as Wingers Diggers, well, I don’t play the same role. I don’t tend to give my men spiritual guidance and they don’t tend to ask for it. They can’t quite forget that whatever else I may be, I am also their boss.”

He may be the author of two highly acclaimed books at the tender age of 25, but none the less there was a momentary choke over the Alpen the other morning when the Swiss writer Alain de Botton found himself referred to in a lonely hearts advertisement. It said: “Three colours red. Alain de Botton, Debussy, Satie. Bookish male, 32, seeks female into the same. Ldn”

“I found it very, very frightening and just a teeny bit flattering,” says de Botton, whose third book, Kiss & Tell, is published by Macmillan this week. “I hope he finds himself a soul mate, although I must say I thought the collection a bit weird.”

De Botton’s own love life – increasingly a phenomenon of national interest after his first two tomes on the subject, Essays in Love and The Romantic Movement – is alive and well. “It was a friend, not me, who discovered the ad whilst trawling through the columns. He then sent it to me,” he assures me.