RICHARD KAY: Cost of BBC boss's £1000 cosy dinners with politicians

By Richard Kay

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Former MP Jame Purnell appears to have spend large amounts of licence fee money on wining and dining his Westminster friends

Former MP Jame Purnell appears to have spend large amounts of licence fee money on wining and dining his Westminster friends

Days after it emerged that senior BBC boss James Purnell has secretly hired an employee from the consultants Deloitte as his chief adviser, I can reveal he has spent more than £1,000 of licence fee money wining and dining a string of politicians.

Details obtained under a Freedom of Information request show that Purnell, the Corporation’s £295,000 director of strategy and digital, hosted dinners at the Labour and Conservative Party conferences.

The ex-Labour minister took eight Labour MPs and two Labour peers to The Coal Shed in Brighton at a cost of £573. He served with most of his Labour guests during his nine years in the Commons, raising questions about a conflict of interests ahead of the BBC’s charter renewal in 2016, for which Purnell is responsible.

Among them were two former BBC employees-turned politicians, Chris Bryant and Ben Bradshaw — the latter a member of the Commons media select committee. Hazel Blears and Gerry Sutcliffe were other MPs who attended the dinner.

The following week, Purnell invited six Tory MPs and a Tory peer to dinner at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel in Manchester at a cost of £532.

Guests included former BBC staffer Therese Coffey MP and Police Minister Damian Green.

The BBC has refused to name the other BBC staff members who attended these functions. It has also refused to state how much money it spent hiring exhibition stands at the conferences.
Labour Party documents show that it charged between £1,500 and £13,000 per stand.

A spokesman for Spinwatch, which campaigns for greater transparency in public life, said: ‘This information should have been published as a matter of course. The public has a right to know who from the BBC is trying to influence our MPs.’ 

The BBC also confirmed in the FoI response that two BBC Scotland executives, Ian Small and John Boothman, spent £384 taking two Lib Dem MPs, two Lib Dem MSPs and one Lib Dem peer out for dinner at the Lib Dem conference in Glasgow. 

A BBC spokesman said: ‘It is normal practice for media organisations to host small dinners at the conferences of the three main political parties.’

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Maggie star takes Potts luck

Talent: Alexandra Roach plays the young Maragaret in the Meryl Streep film The Iron Lady and in her latest venture the wife of opera singer Paul Potts

Talent: Alexandra Roach plays the young Maragaret in the Meryl Streep film The Iron Lady and in her latest venture the wife of opera singer Paul Potts

Since so much is known about Baroness Thatcher, it may not have been too difficult for rising starlet Alexandra Roach to play the young Margaret in the Meryl Streep film The Iron Lady.

But much less is known about the woman she portrays in her latest movie role.

Alexandra plays the wife of opera star Paul Potts, Julie-Ann, opposite James Corden in One Chance, which has received favourable reviews. The film charts Potts’s rise to fame via Britain’s Got Talent.

But the Welsh actress hit a snag trying to get into the skin of her real-life counterpart.

‘I didn’t speak to Julie-Ann much,’ admits Alexandra. ‘Instead I stalked her a lot on Twitter! I don’t know if she knows that. As soon as I found out I had got the part I added her on Twitter . . . but she didn’t add me back!’

There was further embarrassment for the 26-year-old actress when it came to  filming her fictional marriage to Corden. Says Alexandra: ‘When we were filming the wedding scene, Paul and Julie-Ann went to the set and watched James and myself as them getting married. It was very surreal for everyone involved.’

Away from the screen, policeman’s daughter Alexandra has been stepping out with Glaswegian actor James McArdle, whom she met at Rada. They live together in a flat in North London.

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Forsyth sings Melissa's praises

Big break: Village choir mistress Melissa Alder will be performing the New Zealand national anthem at Twickenham tomorrow

Big break: Village choir mistress Melissa Alder will be performing the New Zealand national anthem at Twickenham tomorrow

They say there is no such thing as overnight fame — but when you have author Freddie Forsyth behind you, anything is possible.

Multi-millionaire Freddie’s passion for the singing talents of village choir mistress Melissa Alder has just given her the gig of a lifetime — performing the New Zealand national anthem at Twickenham tomorrow ahead of England’s match with the All Blacks.

And it’s all down to Forsyth’s fervent campaigning. ‘I’m absolutely thrilled and can’t thank Freddie enough,’ says mother-of-three Melissa, who sings in the chorus at the Royal Opera House. ‘I’ve waited all my life for a big break.’

Freddie spotted Melissa, 38, at a concert in the Buckinghamshire village where they both live and wrote to Twickenham authorities urging them to give her a break.

‘I did it on a whim because I was so impressed by Melissa’s voice,’ Freddie tells me. ‘I wrote to the club and didn’t make a point of who I was, but I think they knew! Maybe that helped.’

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Racehorse trainer Sir Henry Cecil, who died aged 70 in June, left an estate of more than £8 million. It is thought that the bulk of three-times married Sir Henry’s fortune will be left to his third wife, Jane, sister of former Grand National-winning jockey Richard Guest.

After his death, she took over his trainer’s licence and sent out two winners in emotionally charged races just two days after losing her husband. Cecil trained a string of winners from his stables at Warren Place just outside Newmarket and was ten times champion trainer.

He won 25 classic races in his career and just when his winning streak seemed to have deserted him, along galloped Frankel, possibly the best racehorse ever.

Cecil left a gross estate of £8,160,551 and after his outstanding affairs were settled, a net estate of £8,125,985, according to figures released by the probate office in London.

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Flamboyant former mayor of Gibraltar Solomon Levy, 75, who  marked the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with a huge illuminated billboard above his office on the Rock, wants HM to send in the Navy to see off King Juan Carlos’s Spanish frigate which regularly patrols British waters.

‘I can see this  frigate, which is named after one of the king’s daughters, from my roof and all we do to frighten it off is send along two little boats not much bigger than tugs. What we need is a proper Royal Navy frigate  permanently on patrol.’  Rule Britannia . . .

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As a former member of the classical vocal group Blake, handsome Jules Knight was used  to being mobbed by adoring fans.
But he has been somewhat taken aback by the reaction of TV viewers since he became the new heart-throb on the BBC’s Holby City. I hear from the Elstree Studios, where it is filmed, that as well as sacks of fan mail, female admirers have been sending him cases of wine, chocolates, worn knickers and, daringly, house keys complete with address attached.
‘It’s very flattering, but a bit overwhelming,’ says Jules. ‘Anyway, everyone on set is enjoying the chocolates and wine.’

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PS

Showing commendable grace under pressure, TV presenter John Humphrys was the complete gentleman when he found his usual dressing room at the BBC’s shiny Salford studios had been handed to pert songbird Kylie Minogue.

Humphrys, due to record back-to-back episodes of Mastermind, says it would have been ‘entirely presumptuous’ of him to expect the dressing room would be reserved for him. ‘

I was asked if I minded and I said I thought her needs were greater than mine,’ the broadcaster tells me. Humphrys, 70, needs to change ties between episodes.

The comments below have not been moderated.

stop moaning about the BBC Are we men or mice JUST TURN OF THE GRAVY TRAIN LICENCE TAX

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Steve, West Mids, 11 hours ago Day after day we keep hearing stories like this about the BBC, BUT SOD ALL IS DONE ABOUT IT!!!! ++++++ Because all the other media organisations are doing the same things - it's just that this newspaper likes to "highlight" the BBC because it sees the BBC as a commercial competitor (though it doesn't tell you that!!)

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The BBC is just as bad, if not worse than Politicians, they never learn. I wonder if they would act in the same way if they had to EARN their money? i think we SHOULD scrap the licence fee (TAX). Whether you like the BBC or not, surely you must see how ridiculous it is that we STILL have a state broadcaster? That we all are FORCED to pay for whether we want to watch it or not. Why? If the BBC is so utterly amazing then surely it would attract enough subscribers to stay afloat on merit no? surely this would be a boon to the 'vulnerable' poor...a £145 tax cut and 10% cut in court cases. huge progress in this 'cost of living crisis' Beaker Milliband keeps screeching about. Oh and the Guardians Broadcast Arm can stop pretending to be impartial...

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The trough just keeps getting bigger.

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yet another reason not to vote !!!

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Will this organisation never learn, it past the time for this organisation to have to make it,s own money which means we will no longer have go pay any fee to the 'Left Leaning BBC' so they can operate the same as other television companies. The licence fee is obviously too high.

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A well known trougher when he was an MP. Still being cavalier with public money. There is only one way to get rid of these parasites and it's illegal

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When are the British public going to wake up to the BBC and stop funding them, lots of us have already and we film their Enquiry "officers" (goons) and upload them to Youtube.

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BBC, tv tax, should be abolished, it seems everybody takes a cut, at the top, show adverts, bring it into the, 21st century.

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When are all the public going to wake up to what the BBC do? Come people stop funding them and when they send round their goons, film them and upload them to YT, many people are doing this already but some people still pay them.

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