Careful demand-management seems sure to cement "Candle in the Wind" into the No1 spot in the singles charts until some time in the spring (and whether that is spring 1998 or 1999 is anyone's guess), but this will not prevent William Hill doing their usual brisk business on the Christmas Number One as the festive season draws closer.

Aware that benefit singles always proliferate at Christmas, Hills are careful to offer their odds "without charity records". This means that even if the first five singles in the list support a good cause, they will pay out on No 6, since, as a spokesman says, "We wouldn't want to be seen to profit from something worthwhile."

One point to consider before stepping in with a heavy bet is that this can often be one of the most volatile betting markets of the year, with a band available at odds-on one week and 16-1 the next when it becomes clear that they have no intention of even releasing a Christmas single. That will surely not be the case with the Spice Girls, however, who pushed the Dunblane Children out of the No 1 spot last year, and who are the hot 5-4 favourites in the Hills betting.

Before the appearance of "Candle in the Wind", a fierce battle for the top spot seemed to be brewing between the Spices and Oasis, with the Gallaghers keen to re-establish themselves at the top of the Britpop hierarchy. Hills, though, believe that the new girls on the block will comfortably see off the challenge (assuming it appears), and quote Oasis at 7-2.

Novelty records, meanwhile, do almost as well as benefit singles at Christmas - who could forget Take That's humiliation at the hands of Mr Blobby a few years ago? No surprise, then, to find the Teletubbies close behind on 5-1, and any single from Tinky-Winky, La-La and co would certainly appeal to the Christmas "granny market", the hordes of senior citizens making their annual visit to a record shop to pick up something for the grandchildren.

There is still a long way to go, though. Ladbrokes have suspended betting until the end of September, since as Ed Nicholson, their spokesman, says, "We really want to make sure we know what we are doing. Of course we have consultants in the music world, but it's still very much our opinion against yours, and there will always be something coming along that we haven't thought of." Like Ladbrokes, punters might do well to suspend all bets for a little while yet.


Hills betting for Christmas No 1 (without charity records)

Spice Girls 5:4

Oasis 7:2

Teletubbies 5:1

Boyzone 12-1

Michael Jackson 14-1

Hanson 16-1

33-1 bar