Imran Khan on Naomi Campbell, Charles Taylor and the “blood diamonds”

Here’s a sneak preview of my interview with the ex-Pakistan cricket captain.

I've done an interview with the former Pakistani-cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan which you'll be able to read in a forthcoming issue of the New Statesman.

However, I thought I'd share an excerpt from it (below). I asked Khan about the night he and his then wife, Jemima, shared a dinner in South Africa hosted by Nelson Mandela. The other high-profile guests included Naomi Campbell, Mia Farrow and the new president of Liberia, Charles Taylor -- who is now standing trial for war crimes. (You can see the much-discussed photograph of that dinner and its gaggle of celebrity guests, including Imran and Jemima, here.)

Farrow's claim that Taylor, after being struck by Campbell's beauty on that September night in 1997, arranged for the supermodel to be given a so-called blood diamond, led to Campbell and Farrow having to testify at Taylor's trial in The Hague in recent days. In fact, the story has dominated news bulletins across the world despite the horrific floods in Pakistan.

What was Khan's memory of that now-notorious night? Did he see or hear about any diamonds? Khan told me:

I remember Naomi, of course. I remember Mia Farrow, Quincy Jones and I remember Nelson Mandela who invited us. But to be honest, I have no recollection of Charles Taylor or these diamonds that everyone is now talking about.

He added:

If there were any diamonds, I'd have been the last person to notice. I'm not really into jewels. But I didn't receive any diamonds and nor did my ex-wife.

(On her Twitter feed Jemima has confirmed Imran's account: "No Charles Taylor didn't give me any dirty looking pebbles -- unsurprising given the pile of dirty laundry I'm wearing in that postnatal pic.")

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Jeremy Corbyn sat down on train he claimed was full, Virgin says

The train company has pushed back against a viral video starring the Labour leader, in which he sat on the floor.

Seats were available on the train where Jeremy Corbyn was filmed sitting on the floor, Virgin Trains has said.

On 16 August, a freelance film-maker who has been following the Labour leader released a video which showed Corbyn talking about the problems of overcrowded trains.

“This is a problem that many passengers face every day, commuters and long-distance travellers. Today this train is completely ram-packed,” he said. Is it fair that I should upgrade my ticket whilst others who might not be able to afford such a luxury should have to sit on the floor? It’s their money I would be spending after all.”

Commentators quickly pointed out that he would not have been able to claim for a first-class upgrade, as expenses rules only permit standard-class travel. Also, campaign expenses cannot be claimed back from the taxpayer. 

Today, Virgin Trains released footage of the Labour leader walking past empty unreserved seats to film his video, which took half an hour, before walking back to take another unreserved seat.

"CCTV footage taken from the train on August 11 shows Mr Corbyn and his team walked past empty, unreserved seats in coach H before walking through the rest of the train to the far end, where his team sat on the floor and started filming.

"The same footage then shows Mr Corbyn returning to coach H and taking a seat there, with the help of the onboard crew, around 45 minutes into the journey and over two hours before the train reached Newcastle.

"Mr Corbyn’s team carried out their filming around 30 minutes into the journey. There were also additional empty seats on the train (the 11am departure from King’s Cross) which appear from CCTV to have been reserved but not taken, so they were also available for other passengers to sit on."

A Virgin spokesperson commented: “We have to take issue with the idea that Mr Corbyn wasn’t able to be seated on the service, as this clearly wasn’t the case.

A spokesman for the Corbyn campaign told BuzzFeed News that the footage was a “lie”, and that Corbyn had given up his seat for a woman to take his place, and that “other people” had also sat in the aisles.

Owen Smith, Corbyn's leadership rival, tried a joke:

But a passenger on the train supported Corbyn's version of events.

Both Virgin Trains and the Corbyn campaign have been contacted for further comment.

UPDATE 17:07

A spokesperson for the Jeremy for Labour campaign commented:

“When Jeremy boarded the train he was unable to find unreserved seats, so he sat with other passengers in the corridor who were also unable to find a seat. 

"Later in the journey, seats became available after a family were upgraded to first class, and Jeremy and the team he was travelling with were offered the seats by a very helpful member of staff.

"Passengers across Britain will have been in similar situations on overcrowded, expensive trains. That is why our policy to bring the trains back into public ownership, as part of a plan to rebuild and transform Britain, is so popular with passengers and rail workers.”

A few testimonies from passengers who had their photos taken with Corbyn on the floor can be found here