Filling the Albert hole

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It is one of the unsolved riddles of existence: why really rather ordinary pop stars dare to perform at London's Royal Albert Hall. Take next week, for instance: what confidence in their broad appeal M People must possess to take on the 10,000-seater venue. Or is it, perhaps, knowledge of the universal law of audience attraction? The law that states that the very fact of appearing at the RAH self-fulfillingly determines a larger- than-merited crowd or, to put it as an equation: Mpeople - RAH = 0people; Mpeople + RAH = lotsofpeople. We need a scientific proof. One can be found in Wednesday's booking, a gig/lecture by the legendary theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking called "Does God Throw Dice in Black Holes?". He is about as close to M People in terms of easy listening as we are from the edge of the galaxy, yet the event has already sold out. You can't help thinking that if he were appearing in a Cambridge bookshop, only 3.6 people would turn up. Granted, Hawking's book on modern cosmology, A Brief History of Time, is one of the best-selling books of the century, but how many non-scientists understand it? The man is famed not only for his theories about black holes, but also for making these matters easy to grasp. Yet his billing with JP McEvoy, the author of Stephen Hawking for Beginners, says a fair bit about the limits of his popularising powers. Even Honor Wilson-Fletcher, the event's organiser for Waterstone's, confesses to surprise at the audience make-up. "There's musicians, retired sergeant majors, and, erm, a coach party from British Nuclear Fuels," she says. "I do find myself wondering why they're all coming." The explanation must be that unknown quantity, RAH. There Hawking will sit - glasses, mop hair, wheelchair - the very image of rational inquiry alone at the centre of the cosmic architecture. The two explain each other: after all, what's the point of understanding holes if you don't know how many of them it takes to fill the Albert Hall?

22 Nov 7.30pm, RAH, London SW7 (0171-589 8212) returns pounds 12