Christmas tribute to Harrison may leave his rivals for Number 1 without a prayer

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The Independent Culture

George Harrison has been made joint favourite to become the Christmas number one. EMI record executives are considering re-releasing "My Sweet Lord" as a tribute to the Beatle who died last week.

And with proceeds from the release expected to go to charity, the allure of the spiritual anthem could ensure a return to the charts it first topped 30 years ago.

Corinna Shaffer, editor of Top of the Pops magazine, said: "I would say that, for sentimental reasons, George Harrison is a sure-fire hit if they release it. It's a lovely song and there are a lot of fans out there still. It's what my money would be on."

With the speculation mounting, Ladbrokes bookmakers made it joint favourite for the top slot yesterday with Robbie Williams' and Nicole Kidman's rendition of the old Frank Sinatra song "Somethin' Stupid".

But Graham Sharpe, of William Hill, said his firm would not be accepting bets on any George Harrison or Beatles release. "We don't think it's appropriate that we should be perceived to be making money out of the George Harrison tragedy," he said.

"Equally, it would not go down well with people who have already placed bets on the current contenders. They could quite fairly argue there was no intention to release a Beatles or George Harrison track until a couple of days ago."

So if "My Sweet Lord" tops the Christmas charts, William Hill will pay out on the number two. And if it is Robbie and Nicole, Hill's stand to lose big-time. "It's not going to be a mortal blow, but we just have to hope it doesn't coincide with another white Christmas. That always does for us," Mr Sharpe said.

He might be lucky. After the children's television character Bob the Builder hit the top spot last Christmas with "Can We Fix It?", it is the Tweenies' turn to bid for pop stardom. Their single, "I Believe in Christmas", was released this week.

And there are other novelty records to look out for. Mr Sharpe is keeping an eye on a Dutch group called Hermes House Band and their cover version of John Denver's "Country Roads".

Radio 2 is having its impact on the charts, too. After Johnnie Walker championed "How Wonderful You Are" by Gordon Haskell, it became the most requested single of the week.

The pundits think anything could happen. Corinna Shaffer said: "The charts always go a bit mad at Christmas. The number one often takes everybody by surprise."