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13 May 2007

Queen makes Blair an offer that he can refuse
To be perfectly Blount
Blair's Tory cheerleader
Oh, ye of little faith
It's not quite tennis, the princess is told
Money problems
A ghost is exorcised
Queen makes Blair an offer that he can refuse

Courtiers at Buckingham Palace, who still feel a sense of grievance over Tony Blair's shameless exploitation of the Queen in the aftermath of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, may be about to take their revenge.

Mandrake hears mischievous whispers that, after the PM relinquishes his office, the Palace will offer him not the Garter, the honour bestowed upon most other prime ministers, but the Thistle, the equivalent order that is traditionally offered to Scotsmen. There is, happily, a rare vacancy in the Order at present.

Blair has always been a closet Scotsman - both his parents had strong Scottish roots and he was of course educated at Fettes in Edinburgh - but, representing an English constituency, and, in the past decade, a predominantly English populace, it is not something he has exactly shouted from the rooftops.

Hugo Vickers, the author of Royal Orders, and, coincidentally, a Lay Steward at St George's Chapel, Windsor, says that, while Blair will hardly be delighted, the courtiers are quite within their rights to offer him the Thistle. "Her Majesty likes to offer the Thistle when she is aware of a strong Scottish link," he says. "Certainly there is one here. Mr Blair is almost as Scottish as Rob Roy."

The distinguished political commentator Anthony Howard says that, while they may well offer it, Blair will almost certainly turn it down. "He will receive a letter saying that the Queen is minded to give him the Thistle. He will, I am sure, write back and say he would prefer the Garter. It isn't just that the Garter is seen, rightly or wrongly, to have more social cachet. Presbyterianism is obviously a force to be reckoned with among the Knights of the Thistle, so I wouldn't see them taking kindly to one of their own converting to Catholicism."

Sir Alec Douglas-Home accepted the Thistle before he became prime minister. Present knights include Lord (George) Robertson, Lord (David) Steel, Lord Mackay, and, perhaps significantly, Blair's old tutor at Fettes, Sir Eric Anderson.
To be perfectly Blount

Since he shot to fame with You're Beautiful, James Blunt has played in concert halls and stadiums around the world. The 33-year-old former Household Cavalry Officer is now about to appear at his most daunting venue yet: the High Court in London.

That is where the Old Harrovian singer and his record company, EMI, have issued a writ against Lukas Burton, an American producer who claims to have co-written six of the songs on Blunt's album Back to Bedlam, which has sold more than 11 million copies. The details of the writ have not been divulged, but the Performing Rights Society suspended payment of royalties on the records on which Burton worked with Blunt after the producer claimed that he was entitled to a cut of the proceeds.

Burton, who has also worked with Sir Paul McCartney and Dido, said that Blunt's music, in its unproduced state, was "crude, occasionally laughably direct and betrayed his relative lack of musicianship." Blunt, incidentally, has issued the writ under his real surname, Blount. The son of Charles Blount, a former Army colonel, changed his name because he thought his fans would not know how it was pronounced. Blount should, in fact, rhyme with "runt."
Blair's Tory cheerleader

Not since I disclosed that Marjorie Longdin had become, during her nephew William Hague's period as Tory Party leader, a close bridge-playing pal of Alastair Campbell's mother, Betty, has there been a more unlikely friendship across the political divide.

But Mandrake hears that, among the close friends and admirers of Tony Blair, who adjourned with him to have lunch at his home in his Sedgefield constituency after he had made his valedictory address on Thursday, was one Julia Maude. She is the 20-year-old daughter of Francis, the Tory Party chairman.

"She happens to be a really good chum of Blair's daughter, Kathryn, who is a year younger than her," a family friend of the Blairs tells me.

"Julia attends Newcastle University, which is not far away. Like her father, Julia is not at all partisan and prides herself on having friends from across the political spectrum. She certainly wasn't making any kind of political statement by being there. She was merely there to support a friend on what was obviously a very emotional day. She was very touched to have been invited."
Oh, ye of little faith

More than a year since he entered into a civil partnership with Sir Elton John, the film producer David Furnish is aware that there appears to be an unseemly enthusiasm in some quarters for news of the break-up of the nation's most high-profile homosexual "marriage".

He sees the agenda, but tells Mandrake that neither he nor Sir Elton is in any mood to oblige these doomsters. "There is absolutely no truth to these rumours," he says. "We have in fact never been happier."
It's not quite tennis, the princess is told

Taking their lead from Her Majesty, who is no longer prepared to subsidise Prince and Princess Michael of Kent in perpetuity, members of Queen's in west London have begun muttering darkly about the honorary memberships that they have discovered the Michaels have been granted at their august club.

"Honorary memberships can be worth in excess of £50,000 and are supposed to be for players who have won the Stella Artois tournament or important figures in tennis - John McEnroe or Boris Becker, for example," claims one member. "The club had always been reluctant to let us see who was on the honorary list, but now someone has got hold of it and it's there in black and white." The Michaels' son, Lord Freddie Windsor, also enjoys free membership.

Members are stumping up £8,000 each for shares in Queen's as part of their £35 million buy-out of the club from the Lawn Tennis Association.

"There has been discussion about which honorary members will remain as such in the new era and it is still ongoing," admits Hugh Barton, the club's operations manager. "What is certain is that past champions will remain honorary members - as will members of the Royal Family."
Money problems

In Harry Enfield's current television comedy, Ruddy Hell! It's Harry and Paul, there is a sketch in which two plummy-voiced surgeons referred to their friend Sir David Money-Coutts. Apparently, Enfield thought that he had invented an amusing name. The real Sir David is not impressed. "Isn't there a law against this sort of thing?" asks the former chairman of Coutts & Co.
A ghost is exorcised

Christopher Lee, whose role in Tim Burton's film Sweeney Todd had been eagerly anticipated, has been told his services are no longer required.

Even by the standards of the Demon Barber, it seems an unkind cut. The actor had been looking forward to making his fourth film with Burton as director and Johnny Depp as the star, but, at the eleventh hour, the character of the Gentleman Ghost that Lee had been signed to play was axed. Half a dozen other actors who were due to play singing ghosts in the film - including Peter Bowles - are also out. "It was a tight production schedule, so, when Johnny had to absent himself when his daughter Lily-Rose was taken ill, some scenes had to be cut," explains my man with the clapperboard.

He adds that Lee, a fine opera singer who has lately released a CD, had impressed Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the lyrics, when he saw him rehearsing at Pinewood. "It would have been worse if I had done the scenes, but I never got to film them," says Lee. "It's a shame as the lyrics were wonderful, but these things happen."

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