Where Robert De Niro rubs shoulders with Pavarotti and Del Boy

There's fame present, past and wannabe. And then there are those who pretend. Serena Mackesy spent a night in the strange twilight world of lookalikes.

The pavement outside Stringfellow's night-club often heaves with gawping News of the World readers; but this crowd looked as though they'd been hand-picked for slackness of jaw, dullness of skin. And as the limos pulled up, they rustled and grunted: "Ooh, ooh. It's Lily Savage. Ooh! Men Behaving Badly! Oozat? Diana Ross or Gloria Gaynor?"

They couldn't have been much more excited if it had been the real thing. Which just goes to show that lookaliking, a job remit somewhere below drag-queening and above karaoke on the glamour scale, really works. Stringy's was playing host to the Celebrity Lookalikes New Year Ball, organised by Celebrity Lookalikes, an agency with 200 dressers-up on its list. A few hundred bookers, hacks, B-listers and confused-looking Stringy's regulars were piling in through those sacred doors to have their hands pumped by Jaws from the James Bond series (one Gary Tiplady, complete with metal teeth) - an experience somewhat akin to getting caught between two sides of gammon - and, appropriately enough, drink ersatz champagne with the "stars".

My eye lighted on Chris Quinten, the former Brian Tilsley of Coronation Street. He looked frightfully busy. I turned to my companion. "Who on earth would want to hire a Chris Quinten lookalike?" He looked closely, did a double-take. "No, that's the real Chris Quinten." The boy's come a long way from Weatherfield.

Descending the stairs to the basement dance floor were Patsy and Edina from Ab Fab. Patsy swigged from an empty champagne bottle, and they played their roles in grating Essex accents. "Ooh, darling, party." "Ooh yes, darling. Look! Cliff Richard! Cliff! Hello, darling!" Cliff, slight and toothy, chatted to the Duchess of York and the late, great Princess of Wales. Nicky Lillie, one of the more convincing Dianas on the circuit, has been suffering a bit of a lull of late; most enquiries since September have been from American chat shows. The agency, though, expects Diana to take on the iconic status of Elvis or Marilyn Monroe once the furore has died down, and she may have a healthy second career opening supermarkets.

At the bar, Robert De Niro fought Robert Mitchum and Clint Eastwood for the attention of the staff. A cross-looking black guy with dreadlocks turned to his friend. "You know what she said to me? She said, "You look like someone. Who are you then?" "Bloody cheek," his friend snorted indignantly.

I knew how he felt. Earlier, someone had pointed at me and shrieked "Barbra Streisand!" One of my mates was nursing his ego in a corner after being accused of being Mr Bean.

Holding my drinks aloft and catching the slipstream of a girl in a tutu, I bumped tummies with Pavarotti. He rolled his eyes. "I feel more like a Ford Escort than a Maestro," he said. In real life he is Colin Miller, a florist from Burton-on-Trent. He has gone to Llangollen with The Big Breakfast, and done two hours' work for a Swiss TV company that garnered him pounds 1,200.

"People want to touch you and have their photo taken with you. In Llangollen this guy from new Zealand said he'd waited for years to meet Pavarotti, but now he'd met me, he didn't mind." The two Pammy Andersons, meanwhile, marching around in identical Barb Wire suits, nipples akimbo, simply looked like normal Stringy's punters.

Rodney and Del Boy grabbed a Pammy and posed for a picture, Rodney pointing his headlight specs down her cleavage. "What's it like being a lookalike, then?" I asked Del Boy. "Lovely jubbly," he replied.

"How much money can you make from this game?"

"Woooer." He tapped the side of his nose. "Can't say. No income tax, no VAT, know what I mean?"

At which point, the crowd surged forward to watch Hot Spice, "the UK's top Spice Girls tribute band". We sat on a step to watch on a screen, and a tutu'd waitress approached. "Excuse me, can you not sit on the stairs, please?" "Where can we sit, then?" "I can get you a table if you like." "Oh, OK." "You'll have to buy champagne," she said firmly. Heading for the exit, we passed Tom Cruise and his lovely wife, who stood, in shocking breach of protocol, with their backs to Princess Madge. A man was questioning them. "There's a lot of speculation," he said, "that you are gay and you are a lesbian." "I'll have to have a few beers before I answer that," said Tom. Nicole wrinkled her lovely little nose. "No comment," she said frostily.

Two girls looked sourly at the screen as the Spicies slapped bits of themselves to "Who-who-who-who-who do you think you are?" "Well," said one, eyeing Ginger's vpl, "You can tell it's not them. Geri would never wear knickers under her catsuit."

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