Axegrinder: 8 December 2006

Sun spotlight falls on Star man's girlfriend

The Sun's showbiz supremo Victoria Newton is showing her bitchy side over what she would doubtless dub her "downmarket rival's" attempt to steal her thunder.

As followers of showbiz tittle-tattle may know, her counterpart at the Daily Star, Joe Mott, has been dating Girls Aloud's Sarah Harding.

Imagine the joy on the Bizarre desk when they were pinged snaps of Ms Harding the morning after the night before (allegedly) with Alex Zane. According to Newton, Zane is apparently Sadie Frost's "toyboy" (no, Axegrinder hadn't heard of him either).

Newton informs her readers that getting caught by a snapper camped outside her house is apparently "unlucky timing for fashion designer Sadie and Sarah's boyfriend — a scruffy journalist — who were both out of the country".

A swift check of the Mottster's Star blog reveals he was indeed in the Maldives Speaking about his break, he writes: "I'm going because I have a weariness about me. Also because I've paid for it. I'll return ‘almost blick' as a South African would say." Charming. Thankfully, the Star returned Newton's fire on Wednesday: "Pop babe Sarah Harding confesses she'd snog Christina Aguilera — if it wasn't for Starman Joe Mott". Phew!

Just in case you were still wondering, "loved-up" Sarah (pictured left) admits that Joe is the only man for her. And "she angrily dismisses claims she'd been partying with another fella while our Joe was on holiday". Sarah adds: "I knew nothing about those pictures of me and Alex Zane. If someone is sad enough to stay outside my house until 7am then they haven't got a life. It's really early days with Joe and it doesn't help when pictures like these are taken."

But it appears true love doesn't stretch to buying poor Joe a Christmas present. "I don't need to buy him anything for Christmas. He's got me!", says Sarah.

Rival execs bid for bubbly with Thomson

There's been much chuckling at The Times over the paper's Christmas auction for charity. Among the prizes on offer is champagne with editor Robert Thomson for five people.

Among the planned bids is one from a rival broadsheet newspaper.

Axe is told that a mischievous group of execs "can hardly contain their glee" at the prospect of Thomson taking them on a personal tour of the News International presses.

However, I fear they may have to up their planned bid from the current proposal of £13.60 if they are to secure the much sought-after prize.

Pierce gives a 'tour d'horizon'

Despite the frenzy of activity at the new Telegraph HQ, I'm delighted to reveal that the paper's assistant editor Andrew Pierce has found time to pursue his public speaking career.

According to the gushing press notice from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, Pierce gave "a tour d'horizon of the current political scene" — whatever that means. Basically, he gave PR hacks assembled in a House of Commons dining room a few gossipy anecdotes about life at Westminster. After a fulsome introduction by Robert Khan, chairman of the Institute's Government Affairs Group, Pierce regaled guests with stories about his Westminster contacts.

But he was less than praiseworthy about gay Labour MP Chris Bryant, who famously advertised himself on a website wearing only a pair of Y-fronts. Pierce talked about Bryant's antics as he apparently searched for male friends and ended with the withering put-down "not in those pants dearie".

Times rapped over PM trip revelations

DOWNING Street is not amused with the latest antics at The Sunday Times. Number 10 issued a strict "not for publication" note about Tony Blair's visit to Washington to the press pack at Westminster.

But the embargo was blown apart by ST political editor David Cracknell who "revealed" full details of the PM's trip by copying out the embargoed press notice.

To deflect flak, Crackers shared his byline with the paper's New York correspondent Sarah Baxter and even gave an additional reporting byline to Michael Smith.

But officials at Number 10 are unconvinced by any attempts to suggest the story leaked out of the States.

"We know what happened and we're not happy about it", grumbles my mole in Downing Street.

And you are…?

I fear The Mail on Sunday's editor Peter Wright sometimes struggles when it comes to recognising famous faces. According to my spies at Associated's HQ, the latest "celeb" to fail Wright's recognition test at a recent party was Harrods boss Mohamed Al-Fayed.

No danger of that happening at the Express, where the latest conspiracy theories over the death of Princess Diana and Mo's son Dodi continue to abound. But that's a subject Axe will return to at a later date.

Journalists could be going for a gong

Will Sky News's omnipresent political editor Adam Boulton soon be styling himself Lord Boulton of Osterley?

I only ask because speculation among hacks at the channel's HQ has already turned to Tony Blair's resignation honours. Boulton's name is in the frame via his new bride Anji Hunter, who was Blair's trusted gatekeeper at Number 10 for years, according to my mole at Sky.

She's now pocketing a fortune at BP, but is widely expected to be given a peerage in the PM's lavender list.

Others in the frame for a gong for their loyal service include Sun editrix Rebekah Wade, soon to be styled Baroness Wade of Wapping no doubt, and her bearded sage Trevor Kavanagh.

Westminster hacks vie for the best office

Chaos reigns among the political hacks at the Palace of Westminster. Few are ever willing to serve on the committee which manages the Press Gallery at the House of Commons.

But panic over a planned shake-up of office space has sparked a flood of applications to the committee which will oversee the revamp.

"Everyone wants to get on the committee to make sure they get the cushiest office," slurs my man in the Press Gallery bar — yes, they have their own bar.

Among the 13 heavyweights battling for 10 slots on the committee are The Guardian's Michael White, the Evening Standard's political editor Joe Murphy and The Mail on Sunday's Simon Walters.

No such luck for the Mirror titles. An attempt to get the paper's associate editor (politics) Kevin Maguire on the committee failed when his team couldn't manage to fill in the nomination forms correctly.

To the mirth of his colleagues, scrutineers ruled Maguire's nomination "ineligible".

Bower set to go back to Black

GLAD to hear that former Telegraph owner Conrad Black is keeping busy despite his tedious legal battles.

I'm told his biography of ex-US president Richard Nixon is due out in March. Among those being lined up to review the book is Evening Standard editor Veronica Wadley's other half Tom Bower.

Black will doubtless be less than delighted at the prospect. He is still fuming at Bower's unflattering biography of him and his reported excesses.

Ramsey's critic nightmare

I'm sad to report that restaurant critics in New York don't share the same gushing enthusiasm for The Times' star columnist Gordon Ramsey as execs at Wapping.

The celebrity chef's new restaurant in the Big Apple has failed to impress.

Among the withering reviews is one from New York magazine's Gael Greene.

She describes most of the grub at the swanky Seventh Avenue eaterie as a "work in progress". But she reserves her harshest words for some seafood.

"Sea scallops, slivered, then overcooked, suggest someone hasn't a clue what great chefs here do with diver scallops," she writes.

"We are shocked by a leathery lobster ravioli and an unseemly marriage of langoustine tails and maple-infused chicken (not to mention the bill)."

Guess she won't be going back in a hurry.

Is TM rumour Virgin on the ridiculous?

Axegrinder fears there is much trepidation at Canary Wharf over the anticipated sell-off of Trinity Mirror's three national titles.

Chief executive Sly Bailey is due to discuss the results of a major review with the board on 14 December.

Amid the speculation of who might enter the race to buy the titles, one intriguing name is being talked about by Mirror staffers.

"No one wants change," says one senior staffer. "But there's a rumour that Richard Branson might be interested. We could do much worse."

Canteen Xmas for Indy staff

WHILE other Fleet Street papers shell out a few bob to hire swanky restaurants in the West End for their staff Christmas parties, it's a different story at The Independent.

The poor hacks' big bash will be held in the staff canteen at the paper's docklands HQ on 14 December. Let's hope editor-in-chief Simon Kelner has laid on something a little more exciting than last year's mechanical bucking bull.

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