How many pairs of shoes have you got? At the last count I had 31. A bit excessive perhaps, but nothing compared to the dancing princesses of the Royal Ballet who get through between 12 and 20 pairs every month of their dancing lives. These painful little constructions of satin, glue and burlap cost pounds 21 a pair, which accounts for the company's annual shoe bill of pounds 67,000. The Friends of Covent Garden have been raising money specifically for shoes since 1989 with the help of a rather clever idea. Offer to covenant pounds 30 a year and they will send you an autographed pair of shoes belonging to the dancer of your choice.

Quite why anyone would want a pair of heavily darned, threadbare and extremely sweaty old dancing slippers is anybody's guess. An arty alternative to furry dice? A sex aid? A group of balletomanes once made soup from a pair of Anna Pavlova's shoes but according to Covent Garden's Friends, the Royal Ballet's shoe fetishists tend to give them to ballet-mad nieces or place them under little glass domes; 'they send us photographs. . .'. Eighty per cent of those donating opt to receive a pair of filthy old shoes.

So far the five most popular dancers have been Darcey Bussell, Viviana Durante, Lesley Collier, Deborah Bull and Fiona Chadwick, but the extraordinary young star Sarah Wildor is coming up on the rails. The Friends' office tries to discourage requests for the mortal remains of the men's shoes and does its best to fob them off with signed photographs but a few sick, twisted individuals have insisted on getting a heady whiff of Zoltan Solymosi and Irek Mukhamedov. 'We pick them up by the edges and drop them in the envelope.'

The Friends of Covent Garden Pointe Shoes Appeal. Jane Lenton (071-240 1200)

(Photograph omitted)