The House of Horrors belonging to Paul Dacre

The SNP’s John Nicolson was in for a surprise when he revisited his family’s ancestral Highland home.

When John Nicolson, the redoubtable SNP politician, decided to revisit his family’s ancestral Highland home, he could have had no idea it would turn into Through the Keyhole meets the MacKardashians.

“It was a modest Georgian house at Langwell, near Ullapool, built by my family in the 18th century,” Nicolson tells Mandrake. “It’d become a tradition through the generations to go and pose for a photograph outside the front door so I took my partner Juliano and a camera.”

When they arrived, Nicolson was aghast to find that the house had been clumsily refurbished. “Someone had tacked a huge mock French chateau with a turret on to the back of the modest old house,” he says. “It was totally out of keeping with the area and the history of the building. I assumed a Texan oil billionaire had stumbled into the glen and bought it on a whim.”

As the couple walked around it in disbelief, a ghillie emerged shouting that it was private land. “I explained there was no law of trespass in Scotland,” Nicolson said. “He was coy when I asked him who owned it.”

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When he got home, Nicolson googled the property to find out who had been responsible. He was in for a shock. “Paul Dacre, the former editor of the Daily Mail, had acquired it for paying guests as it’s on the perimeter of his 20,000 acre Langwell estate,” says Nicolson.

The newspaperman acquired the estate in 2009 for £2.45 million and had been in receipt of EU subsidies for the “encouragement of tourist activities,” which included offering his paying guests deer stalking, salmon fishing and grouse shooting. Dacre also owns estates in Sussex and the Virgin Islands.

If appointed chair of Ofcom, there is the entertaining prospect of Dacre appearing before Nicolson, who sits on the Commons Culture Committee.

Leaker returns

After lying low for a while, the phantom leaker of positive stories about Michael Gove is once again at large. And, now that Boris Johnson has relieved the cabinet minister of his responsibilities for making a success of Brexit, the leaker’s messaging would appear to have adapted.

The miscreant told the Sunday Times over the weekend that Gove had hosted a video call with members of the business community. “According to one attendee, Gove was at pains to show that he ‘gets it’, and heard the plight of firms facing sudden bureaucracy and border delays first-hand,” the newspaper reported. “The person said: ‘There was a shift from saying there were teething problems to recognising there are real issues there.'”

Of course, this is now no longer all Gove’s fault, but Lord Frost’s.

Wrong again

Kishwer Falkner, the £500-a-day chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, last week voted once again with the government in the House of Lords on not excluding from UK trade deals countries that are involved with genocide.

The former Lib Dem said her rationale was “that parliament, not a committee of retired judges, should decide if a trading partner is committing genocide.” 

One fellow peer tells me: “This is not an issue on which you can take a nuanced approach. Responsible peers across all parties got that which is why the government was once again defeated.”

Hill climb

It doesn’t usually take long for former Downing Street grandees to start earning a six figure salary. But Fiona HillTheresa May‘s right-hand woman when she was prime minister, does not seem to be in that bracket quite yet.

Inaugural accounts for FMH Strategy – the support services firm that Hill set up in 2019 – show it made a profit of £71,392 for its first 12 months of trading. Hill can, however, take some consolation in picking up a second directorship last July on the board of Aberdeen-based Neo Energy Group.

No news yet on her former colleague Nick Timothy’s earnings, but it seems likely that the duo’s old boss Theresa May is making more than both of them put together. Since leaving office, she’s banked £1.1 million and counting. She has just reported a one-off £38,672 payment from the Dallas-based Society of the Four Arts for a five-hour “virtual” speaking engagement.

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