Axe Grinder 03.08.06

Summer holiday to see Tony and George is child's play for reporters

I'M SHOCKED at the mollycoddled treatment of the political hacks who accompanied Tony Blair on his five-day trip to the States to see George Bush.

A Downing Street memo on the visit, which has been passed to Axegrinder, gives a revealing glimpse of life on the road for the Lobby journalists who travel with the PM.

It offered the press pack the chance of a freebie on their day off to Alcatraz (clearly what passes for wit at Number 10) or a wine-tasting junket to the Napa Valley.

Almost unbelievably, the advice on the visit from Downing Street also reminds the media entourage: "Please bring your passport with you."

The eight-page document even gives the pampered mob a map to show them how to get to the Royal Suite at Heathrow Airport to ensure they didn't miss the flight.

The dress code for the California weather is covered thus: "Light clothing is advised with sweaters/wraps for the cooler evenings."

But in a bitter blow for correspondents from The Guardian and The Indy, a ban on sandals was in force for at least one event.

"Please note that for the Climate Group event, you should not wear open-toed shoes."

But, with a price tag of £5,500 for a business class ticket on the trip and £2,500 to fly economy, perhaps the hacks expect a little TLC from Number 10.

■ Sky News's omnipresent political editor Adam Boulton had an excellent excuse for missing Blair's trip.

He was on honeymoon in the Far East with new bride Anji Hunter, the PM's former "gatekeeper", after their wedding in Mayfair for 350 of their closest pals.

Among Blair's meetings was one with BP chief exec Lord Browne, who is Boulton's wife's boss and employs her as a spin-doctor on a reputed £250,000 a year.

Who would dare criticise the boss of their new missus?

Syson shines again at Sun

The Sun has been strangely tightlipped about the suspension and subsequent reinstatement of its veteran hack Neil Syson.

Thankfully, for Axegrinder, some of editor Rebekah Wade's underlings have been more forthcoming about the bizarre tale.

It all starts when Syson is dispatched to Eastern Europe to chase "close friends" of Sir Paul McCartney's wife Heather.

Already grumpy about a cock-up in his travel arrangements, Syson is told he must have dinner with a tourism official in Slovenia with a view to writing a travel piece.

The request from Wapping followed a lavish holiday in the region enjoyed by Wade and "hardman" husband Ross Kemp.

Sadly, Syson may not have gushed about his editrix in a suitably effusive way. In fact, he may just have been a tad rude about Wade.

Even worse, his alleged comments were filtered back to Wapping, according to sources at The Sun.

Throw in a dispute about Syson's expenses claim (now happily resolved) and Wade is left very disgruntled.

Thankfully, all is again sweetness and light at the paper and the highly regarded Syson returned last month to continue his 18 years of hard labour at the paper.

Shazzer's Z-list schmoozing has cult following

As columns go, Sharon Marshall's "No Sex in the City", which runs in The Sun every Monday, truly remarkable.

Shazzer is the latest in a plethora of post-Bridget Jones columnists to foist the car crash that is their love life on an undeserving public.

But the column — a kind of British Sex in the City with a cast of Z-list celebs — is so toe-curlingly poor that it is winning an army of Fleet Street fans for all the wrong reasons.

Some of Shazzer's recent outpourings/ searing insights into the world of the lovelorn have included:

  • 3 July: Shazzer doesn't meet a celeb, but she sits next to a celeb's bodyguard. "Thought I'd finally met a man who was pleased to see me. Turned out he just had a gun in his pocket. I'm at a polo match. Sat next to Princess Michael's bodyguard."
  • 17 July: Shazzer meets a real celeb this time: Morten Harket from a-ha, a band famous almost two decades ago. After accosting him for a quick snog, she gushes: "Thank you. I love you. I've been wanting that for 18 years. I kissed you every night on my wall. You feel so warm. Can I have an autograph? Will you write something saucy?" Someone call security.
  • 24 July: Shazzer doesn't like her multimillionaire date's carpets."Is the colour of a man's carpets a good enough basis to end a potential relationship?" she muses.
  • 31 July: Groundbreaking humour from Wapping's own Candace Bushnell. "Is it just you or do all rugby boys have oddly shaped balls?"

Please God, will someone find her a boyfriend. Or as Bridget might say about Shazzer's column — number of shags: 0; number of laughs for right reasons: 0; number of laughs for wrong reasons: 14.

Indy feature writer, 28, seeks regretful loner

The Independent's former Pandora diarist Guy Adams has moved on to grander things as a feature writer for the paper.

But the new job means he has to resort to firing off roundrobin emails begging for help from colleagues.

The latest reads: "Pretty please! Seeking case studies : unmarried, 35-45-year-old males prepareed [sic] to tell us if they do, or do not belong to the latest social grouping: ‘regretful loners' —Guy Adams."

Surely, a quick glance around the newsroom would have given Adams all the copy fodder he needed?

To miss an exclusive story, please press 1

Don’t bother ringing The People or the Sunday Mirror with a late-breaking exclusive after 7pm on a Saturday night — the switchboard has been shut down.

The latest ludicrous penny-pinching from chief executive Sly Bailey means that callers to the two national titles hear a recorded message with a confusing array of alternative numbers to ring to reach various newsdesks, including The Racing Post.

"Doesn't anybody realise the papers are still live until about 3am on a Sunday morning?" moans one baffled operative. "But all the nutters still manage to get through."

Harding shows Times staff he means business

The pointy-heads at The Times are quaking at the prospect of life in "year zero" under new business editor James Harding.

Editor Robert Thomson brought his blue-eyed boy over from the Financial Times after his former business supremo, Patience Wheatcroft, quit to take charge at The Sunday Telegraph.

Harding has been telling chums he has “big plans” to shake up the the Wapping team's City coverage.

The ambitious hack claims to speak four or five languages fluently, including Mandarin Chinese.

"I guess that means he'll be able to tell us how to ‘f*** off' and get another job in at least five different ways," said one despairing financial scribe.

Big Brother no longer equals big bucks

The heady days when the basketcases in the Big Brother house could bank on picking up between £30,000 and £100,000 from a tabloid for their tedious revelations appear to be over.

Recent "bidding wars" on Saturday nights for the latest evictee from the Channel 4 show have seen the victorious Sunday tabloid pay as little as £2,000 for an exclusive buy-up.

Money's tight for Statesman second-jobber

Multi-millionaire Geoffrey Robinson laid on a lavish spread to mark the relaunch of lefties' bible the New Statesman at Tate Britain last month.

Sadly, the largesse of the effervescent Robinson and his new editor John Kampfner does not appear to extend to paying the mag's political editor Martin Bright a lavish salary.

He is still to be found manning the desk at his old paper, The Observer, on the Saturday night graveyard shift to pick up extra cash.

Glover v Heffer — the sparring continues

OH DEAR. Those two venerable rightwing columnists, Stephen Glover and Simon Heffer, appear to be taking pot-shots at each other again.

Glover wrote in the Daily Mail (27 July) an article headlined: "As a friend of Israel, I have to say this: the greatest casualty of the war will be your own country."

He spoke with sorrow about the hawkish reaction of his "Jewish friends"

to the Lebanon-Israel war, and he argued that Israel was losing the hearts of many onlookers.

Two days later, in The Daily Telegraph, Heffer writes in his Saturday column about the same story. But his view is very different.

"I am fed up with reading canting, hypocritical articles in the press banging on about how most of the writer's best friends are Jews but, of course, what Israel is doing is awful," fumes Heffer.

Who could Heffer possibly have in mind when firing off his furious salvo?

Crackers faces Whitehall crackdown

NEWS reaches me of yet more trouble for The Sunday Times editor David "Crackers" Cracknell.

He has already taken a pounding political blogger Guido Fawkes, website is less than charitable about poor love.

Now it appears the Cabinet might be about to reopen its into the flow of Government papers Wapping, some of which appeared Crackers's byline.

Mandarins decided to take no after the paper sent its ambitious Claire Newell undercover to Whitehall.

But all that could be about to Watch this space," one senior ominously tells Axegrinder.

Lightning fast Kennedy's late night denial

Thirsty Liberal Democrat leader Charlie Kennedy may be a recovering alcoholic, but he's quick off the blocks when it comes to issuing denials about his future.

The News of the World's Jamie Lyons and The Observer's Ned Temko claimed on Sunday (30 July) that he wanted to become leader of the Liberal Democrats again.

Kennedy's denial was already running on Radio Five Live by 11pm on Saturday night — hours before the papers even hit the streets.

Summer hiccup for Parliament pint-seekers

Talking of booze, could it get any worse for the Lobby hacks at Westminster?

They have already been thrown out of the press gallery at the Commons for the summer while the roof is repaired.

They have been banned for years from enjoying an alfresco drink on the terrace overlooking The Thames.

Now, in the latest twist of the knife from the Commons authorities, they are banned from the heavily subsidised Strangers Bar — the only bar open in the Palace over the summer.

"How on earth can we afford to pay full price for a drink?" moans one of the self-proclaimed Sad Old Gits — or soggies — from a barstool near the Commons.

To baldly go…

IT'S NEVER a surprise to see a TV crew interviewing Sunday Mirror showbiz editor Ben "World Exclusive" Todd in the newsroom about his latest scoop.

The hack enjoys waxing lyrical for the cameras about his string of exclusives about Sir Paul McCartney's impending divorce from wife Heather.

Sadly, one of Axegrinder's spies overheard Todd's plea to the crew on his latest outing: "Can you see my bald spot from that angle?"

For those who don't know him, Todd is completely bald. An unrepentant Todd insists: "I was being ironic."

Oborne's thinly veiled loon rant

SCORCHING stuff from former Spectator political editor Peter Oborne.

Writing in the Evening Standard, Oborne attacks the "lunatic faction, unfortunately in control both of British foreign policy and Tory party thinking, which believes that Islam and the West are engaged in an apocalyptic conflict".

Students of the Spectator will note that no one has been more "lunatic" in taking this American neo-con line than The Speccie's new editor Matthew D'Ancona.

Could Oborne possibly be criticising the man who has taken over his old magazine?

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