Hugo Kelly just can’t keep away from the ubiquitous Cheryl Kernot.

Not satisfied with the headlines generated by her ABC radio interview last Sunday, she was attempting some more damage control. The kind of damage control they’ve been doing down at ground zero where the Twin Towers used to be. Very heartfelt, but a little late after the event.

Still, she picked a nice easy forum. If you want a soft, comfy love-in there’s no better place to go for a chastened celeb. In fact, it was a night of washed-up has-beens on the Panel; following Cheryl, up popped Jason Donovan, cheerily chatting about drug-induced memory loss and the good old days with Kylie.

Looking relaxed and tanned in Lilac, Cheryl gave Rob and Tom a friendly squeeze before launching into Laurie Oakes for not putting the story to her first: “so I had a chance to deny it not that I would have”.

The Panel’s resident bimbo, Kate Langbroek, got the ball rolling, revealing that her contribution to the show is closely scripted by the program’s producers. When the Cheryl-Gareth story broke two Wednesdays ago, it apparently didn’t get a run on the Panel, and here’s why: “The story was only on the Nine news that night,” said Kate. “We were told not to mention it.”

Kate has paid no attention to the issue over the next two weeks, completely missing Sheryl laying the blame last Sunday on the ALP for leaking the story to Oakes.

Kate: “Was it a Channel Nine thing? Did it come from journalists or the party?,”

Cheryl: “The party”.

Kate: (excited) “Oooooohh!”

Kate has, until recently, been masquerading as a columnist for the Sunday Age. The paper’s new editor Malcolm Schmidtke’s best move so far has been to dump this human vacuum from the paper.

Cheryl recognised a kindred spirit, and busied herself sucking up to her mate Kate:

Cheryl: “In the middle of this I can remember Kate Langbroek saying: “But it’s a good book”. That was wonderful, Kate”.

Kate: “I can’t remember saying that. Not that I wouldn’t.”

Moving along to the less banal end of the panel, Rob Sitch wanted to know whether ASIO was monitoring the Gareth-Cheryl affair. An ugly thought.

Rob also nailed her lame attempts to deny the relationship affected the political landscape, reminding her that in the papers that very day, there was the story of the Naval commander demoted for an affair with a junior officer. “It’s material in a relationship,” he said, adding helpfully: “I reckon there’s a critical mass where the jury’s still out.”

Next guest up, Jason Donovan showed Cheryl how to handle the meeeja. As Jason said of his initially successful attempts to hide his relationship with Kylie all those years ago: “The press will write what they want. Why not get one up on them, and not give them the facts.” He’s learned a lot from his ex-pollie dad, Terry.

Poor old Cheryl was still playing the blame game, moaning about how her teenage daughter shouldn’t have to be subjected to all this nonsense. Cheryl, if you didn’t want to upset your daughter, maybe you shouldn’t have been banging Gareth? Just a thought.

Meantime, Cheryl’s still been talking to Gareth. Who else would have suggested to her that we pass a law banning the meeja from reporting a politician’s private life just like they have in France. “In Canada and France there is respect for a person’s private life,” she whimpered.

Yeah, that’s exactly what we want. Unaccountable pollies running rampant past a compliant media, rolling in corrupt money and screwing whoever they like at the public’s expense. Thanks for coming, Cheryl, see you in the Sixth Arrondissment.

It was a night of power wimmin on the telly. Tough-as-nails NZ Prime Munester Helen Cluck was up on ABC TV’s Foreign Correspondent, walking out not once, but twice, on an interview with David Hardaker.

And what were the outrageous questions from the Aussie interloper that forced the Grand Dame to vacate the studio? Well, according to Cluck’s PR spinners, the dreadful ABC was insinuating she was a yuk! LESBIAN! Now, just because she’s a strong, childless woman who wouldn’t look out of place on the Bronwyn Bishop float at the Mardi Gras, and just because there’s been a bit of scuttlebutt floating around NZ talkback radio, doesn’t mean she’s anything but a red-blooded hetro.

Trouble is, that’s not what happened. Hardaker didn’t ask: “Do you prefer strapping on the Sybian – or doing the doona dance with the hubby?”.

In fact, he merely raised the question of “Paintergate” – Cluck’s attempt to pass herself off as a mediocre artist, rather than a mediocre politician, by signing her name on a painting as a fundraiser. Police found enough evidence to lay charges but didn’t. Meanwhile, a local solicitor had used his trust fund to buy the painting, giving it to Cluck’s secretary, who promptly destroyed it before police could examine the evidence.

But Helen wasn’t answering questions on the issue, and decided to walk out twice. Apparently the NZ media captivated by her asexual charm lets her get away with this kind of petulance.

Cheryl, are you reading this? Maybe it’s time to head across the ditch? They’re much more forgiving of strong women with attitude over there.

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Peter Fray

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