Contains: Charles Kennedy’s radio adventures, Borgenspotting, Sepp Blatter — sex god, things that should be left to rot in the 1990s, Sky Arts, and I’d rather walk to Ibiza than fly Ryanair

Scottish Daily Mail June 9 2015

I was asleep when a radio reporter called to tell me that Charles Kennedy had died. Even now, a week later, writing that sentence floors me.

In my head, I still hear his laugh, or his low-tar voice down the phone, or see him cock his head quizzically in response to some outrageous theory of mine. In all the years I knew Charles, we never had a fight because Charles was unfailingly courteous. But I knew when he profoundly disagreed with me, because he would say, with deceptive mildness, “D’ye think so?”

I first met Charlie when I was a researcher for BBC radio. I hadn't been with the station for very long, and Charles was already a rising political star. I called him at the Commons to invite him onto a current affairs programme to discuss his party’s policy on an arcane aspect of maritime shipping law. “Of course I'll do it,” he said, cheerfully. “Do you happen to know what our policy is?”

Later we teamed up as producer and presenter for a series of one-to-one interviews recorded when Parliament was in summer recess. Officially this was called “The Kennedy Conversations”, although locally it was dubbed “Parly with Charlie”. Around this time others called him “Chat Show Charlie” but he was a good, tactful interviewer and journalist, even when James Naughtie spent most of the lunch prior to the show lecturing Charles on how to further his political career (“Keep people at a distance, Jim? D’ye think so?”)

Charles’ interest was informal and genuine, and people opened up to him. John Smith confided that he thought he had only one shot at bringing Labour to power, while Andrew Neill admitted his regret over socialising with Pamella Bordes, a companion who turned out to be a high-class call girl.

Charlie himself may not have been traditional matinee idol material, but he had bags of charm. Selina Scott offered to improve Charlie’s wardrobe by taking him out to buy a pair of cowboy boots: he resisted. A gay Scottish celebrity took a particular shine to him, his attention piqued by Charles’ excited talk of wining and dining his new partner George. It was left to me to tell the celeb that Charles was then stepping out with book PR Georgina Capel.

After work was done, we would let down our hair and celebrate with chair races down the Commons corridors — until we were caught and told off by security — and at the end of our last series, Charles shyly presented me with a bottle of perfume. I was touched to discover he’d padded around the House of Fraser counters himself, quizzing counter ladies for advice.

We never worked together again but stayed in touch, and had planned to meet this year once Indyref and the election votes were put to bed. A great deal has been written about Charles’ alcoholism, most of it decent, thoughtful and supportive. Charles had some tough years, especially the loss of his parents, his best friend, the failure of his marriage, and the death of Anna Werrin, his assistant from the start of Charles’ Commons career. He dealt with awful sadness as best he could, and in private, because he would have regarded pressing his problems onto others as a lapse in Kennedy politesse. Charlie was a genuine gentle man, but as the world became less sincere, and even rather vindictive, he struggled. The outpouring of affection this week would have delighted and astonished him. Loved? I think so.


The spanish newspaper El Mundo has offered a long list of women believed to have been romanced by Sepp Blatter while he was president of FIFA. Forget soft drinks manufacturers or credit cards: the next World Cup should be sponsored by Specsavers.


Lunching last week at a delightful hingoot in Glasgow’s sparkling west end, I gave my dining companion a quick dig in the ribs when a couple of men strolled through the door. “Look,” I stage-whispered. “It’s JJ Field”.

My lunch companion was more astute. “I don’t know who JJ Field is,” he hissed back — apparently BBC’s Three Musketeers isn’t quite the mainstream hit I imagine — “But the man beside him is Kasper from Borgen”.

Immediately all heads in the eaterie rotated like tryouts for The Exorcist in order to clock Pilou Asbaek, star of Denmark’s rain-drenched West Wing

It’s ironic that, despite years sitting in hotel rooms interviewing actors and actresses, I am completely useless at spotting them in real life, unless their starpower has the wattage of Pluto on a rainy night.

Probably a waiter or something

Strolling along the Croisette in Cannes, I mentally backpatted myself for recognising Anthony Andrews from the 1980s dramatisation of Brideshead Revisited, yet completely failed to clock Quentin Tarantino holding court a few feet further on, until both appeared in a trades snapshot the following day.

In the lobby of a London hotel, I exchanged nods with a smartly-suited young waiter, who turned out to be Keanu Reeves. And when a kind middle-aged man held the door open for me with a smile, I swept past with the fleeting thought that he resembled The Hunt For Red October’s Alec Baldwin. And of course, that is who he was.

Tom Cruise, Hugh Grant, Bill Nighy — you name them; I’ve walked past them. At best, I might perhaps think ‘Hmm, he seems familiar — maybe we were at school together’ as I briskly overtake some multimillionaire idol.


Things we don’t miss from the 90s: beany babies, the “Rachel” haircut, Loaded magazine, and TFIF Friday. It’s 19 years since Chris Evans presented the Channel 4 pop and chat show that rounded up unappetising egomaniacs and usefully stashed them away in a live TV studio so they couldn’t ruin everyone’s weekend.

They have kilts. Where are our tasers

Despite its star-studded guest list, TFI Friday was always uncomfortable viewing, because there were no sympathetic participants, down to an audience which chortled over boorishly witless inserts such as “bird or bloke” (hey, that woman looks a bit like a man) or “fat lookalikes”. Above all, the show was built around the cock-eyed idea that viewers could happily endure Chris Evans, his producer Will and Danny Baker exchange grim pubby ‘bants’ studded with gor-blimey condescension. In one edition, they even relocated the show to their local.

Now Britpop’s answer to Top Gear is back for one night only. I’ll be watching — if the special guests include a pride of hungry lions.


A large gold nugget worth £10,000 was found by a first timer while panning a river near Wanlockhead.

In other news, I have now found a location for my 10 year old goddaughter’s birthday party and treasure hunt.


“Hell is other people,” said Jean-Paul Sartre, which confirms that some French philosophers have never had to tangle with low budget airlines.

If it isn’t Kate Moss swigging vodka in the Easyjet seat beside you, it’s the prospect of having to change your name by deed poll, because it is cheaper and easier than changing a Ryanair ticket.

19 year old Adam Armstrong decided to rename himself Adam West after his girlfriend’s father mistakenly booked a trip to Ibiza for him under that name, and the airline asked for £220 to put his birth name back on the ticket. So he changed his name and passport instead

My sympathy lies entirely with Adam. The last time I flew with Ryanair, from London to Scotland, I turned up with one item of handbaggage — a plastic bag containing a chicken I had picked up for dinner at the airport Tescos. At check in, I was told this would have to go in the hold “for safety reasons”. I never did find out what sort of real and present danger my ready-basted chicken might present in-flight. I certainly wasn’t planning to fire up a barbecue from row 17.

Ever since, when someone outwits these airlines, I give a cheer — and not the tinny recorded kind that is played over the tannoy when your budget flight contrives to land at its destination. From the sharkish baggage and ticket charges, to the brass neck of charging for cup-a-soup as an inflight meal, to the wisdom of staffing a heavier-than-air bus with an entire crew that look as if they are on a school outing, there is little pleasure in taking to their unfriendly skies. I would rather fly with Glenn Miller.


Congratulations to Sir Bradley for crushing cycling are hour distance record at Lee Valley VeloPark this week. Although it is hard to imagine folk watching Wiggins cycle round and round in a circle for an hour, when the Grand Prix is on the other side…

The ecstasy of achievement


“We love arts and entertainment as much as you do” proclaims Sky Arts on its Twitter page. Hard to believe, given they’ve just axed Sky Arts 2. Apparently in sunny Sky world, merging Arts 1 and Arts 2 means “all your arts in one great place!” Or, as it’s also known: half as much arts.

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