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The mystery of Elizabeth Taylor

As schoolboys we grew up with the knowledge that Elizabeth Taylor was famous. She was British, I learnt, but the first time I heard her speak on television, she sounded completely American. When her childhood films, such as National Velvet, were shown on television, she had sounded so like a properly brought up English girl. The American accent sounded all wrong.

She was celebrated for having lots of husbands but as boys we did not agree she could be married eight times to seven men. She had married Richard Burton twice but as mathematicians we felt that should have counted as one marriage.

Her film career ended a long time ago and in recent decades, she was defined almost entirely by her encounters with Michael Jackson and, to an even greater extent, with Elton John, and her AIDs campaign. Some beautiful actresses want their fans to remember them as they were but perhaps Elizabeth Taylor’s greatest act of courage was to grow old and become wheelchair bound fully in the public eye.

Despite the Libya war and last week’s budget, British newspapers marked Elizabeth Taylor’s passing as a landmark event. She is best remembered for Cleopatra but the production was troubled and the movie itself not a great success. The role was initially offered to Joan Collins and Elizabeth Taylor then asked for a record fee of $1m in the hope she would be turned down. Filming had to be scrapped after it had started because she fell ill.

The cast and director were changed when filming resumed with Burton taking over the role of Antony from Stephen Boyd. Much of her later work was not well received, critics have said, but henceforth she would become more famous for her tempestuous relationship with Burton than for her films.

Her funeral took place within 48 hours of her death as she converted to Judaism before her 1959 wedding to Eddie Fisher. Ever the actress, she asked for the service to begin 15 minutes after the scheduled time — because “she even wanted to be late for her own funeral”.

Top (she) gun

Leaving aside the rights and wrongs of the Libya war, one has to admire the cool professionalism of Britain’s Royal Air Force pilots.

Last week, after flying a seven hour sortie over Libya in a £125m Typhoon jet at speeds of up to 1,500mph, one of the pilots landed back at base in Gioia del Colle in southern Italy — and shook her blonde hair loose.

Thus, Flight Lieutenant Helen Seymour, 31, was introduced as the RAF’s first woman fighter pilot.

She did not seek any special attention but one of her colleagues, Master Aircrew Darren Isaac, an airborne image analyst, said : “It’s a cliché to say the female pilots are ‘one of the guys’ but everyone works together.”

An expert, Air Commodore Andrew Lambert, acknowledged: “If a girl is captured then there is a greater problem than if a man is captured, so one has to be slightly more cautious.”

But if Hollywood gets round to making a female version of Top Gun and then Bollywood gets round to doing a copy of the movie, which Indian actress will be slim enough to squeeze into a tight cockpit?

And the most important question of all if you are a female Top Gun — do you reach into your Prada handbag tucked away at the bottom of your feet and make sure your lipstick is put on perfectly just before take off?

The big Apple

No one has been bolder in business than Lakshmi Mittal, the chairman and CEO of ArcelorMittal, but will he follow the gospel that he preaches?

The word is that instead of going for a couple of giant Indian steel plants, say in Orissa or Jharkhand, he is considering putting up several smaller ones scattered across the country.

For the third year, Lakshmi is on the panel of judges, along with Lionel Barber, editor of The Financial Times, of the FT ArcelorMittal Boldness in Business Awards.

The debate to pick the winners, who had shown “boldness in innovation, technology and corporate social responsibility” had been “lively”, disclosed Lakshmi.

Alan Mulally, president and CEO of Ford, was named “Person of the Year”, while the Environment Award went to Jain Irrigation Systems of India.

The top award — the “Driver of Change” — went this year to Apple.

Lakshmi commended “the strength of vision that inspired Apple to be a pioneer in the tablet market”.

The prize was picked by the incorrigible Twitterer Stephen Fry, who clocked 2m followers last November.

Fry, an actor (he plays Jeeves on television), author and television presenter, is also acclaimed as Britain’s most cultured homosexual.

Asked when he first acknowledged his sexuality, Fry is supposed to have been bold and innovative in his reply: “I suppose it all began when I came out of the womb. I looked back up at my mother and thought to myself, ‘That’s the last time I’m going up one of those.’”

RIP Fred

The news Fred Titmus, the England and Middlesex all- rounder, had died last week, aged 78, brought back fond memories of one incident which occurred when I first came to England.

A bunch of us boys from my North London school would be bussed once a week in the middle of winter to the Alf Gover indoor cricket school.

As a parting gift from my classmates at St Xavier’s in Patna, my friends, especially Deshopriya Mukherjee, a lanky pace bowler, had taught me how to mix up fast and leg spin in the same over, a singularly unchristian thing to do. I did not realise the great Titmus, a coach then, had come from an adjoining net and had watched me toss up a fairly ordinary St Xavier’s leg spin ball — it looped through the air, pitched outside leg stump, turned sharply and rattled the off stump. In Patna terms, this was nothing special. But the batsman was one of Titmus’s better English boys.

Titmus clapped his hands in delight and turned to the batsman: “He had you in the air.”

I became a Titmus fan though I was puzzled. It took many matches for me to realise exaggerated leg spin was practically unknown in school cricket. Like a little boy who enjoys pulling the legs off a grasshopper I learnt to be unpleasantly cruel — and show off especially when Titmus was around.

Tittle tattle

Srichand Hinduja last week wanted to discuss the consequences of the Libya war. His view is a sensible one — if bombing continues to destroy Libyan infrastructure, let alone kill civilians, even those opposed to Col Muammar Gaddafi will switch to supporting the dictator.

Suddenly, on receiving what seemed like an urgent telephone call in his office on the 14th floor of New Zealand House, SP shot up and made me follow him down the lift into another room which was full of men glued to a TV set.

Libya is vital, to be sure, but we all have to get out priorities right. We were just in time to see Yuvraj hit the winning boundary against Australia. I reckon the scene was repeated across the Indian diaspora.

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