Cook's stars to push cool Britannia

ROBIN COOK appeared faintly embarrassed by his new role as "Mr Cool Britannia" yesterday as he launched a panel of experts charged with transforming the nation's image abroad.

"Actually, I personally find 'Cool Britannia' a great ice-cream and I recommend it," Mr Cook said, adding that he should not be endorsing an American product made by Ben and Jerry. But despite its public unveiling on the morning of 1 April, the exercise was an entirely serious one, the Foreign Secretary maintained.

The group of 33 men and women from the worlds of fashion, business, sport and the arts would set out to convince the world that the UK had more to offer than old buildings and traditions.

"The picture many have of us is out of date. Some see us as we were 20 years ago, stuck in decline. Some see us as no more than the sum of our past - a heritage theme park of castles and villages.

"All too often our innovativeness and creativity in IT, design, business and a range of other areas is insufficiently widely recognised," he said.

Mr Cook highlighted the Foreign Office's existing use of modern technology, including satellite television, to get its message across.

He had himself set up in his office a display of British products which demonstrated "the creative genius of Britain", he said, adding: "I am proud to show it to my visitors from around the world."

Sir Michael Jay, the ambassador in Paris and a member of the group, had also set up a display of the latest modern designs from Britain in the French embassy.

Among the members will be Michael Levy, the multi-millionaire record producer and tennis partner to Tony Blair, who recently became Lord Levy. He set up Labour's blind trusts. Waheed Ali, head of the Planet 24 television company, makers of The Big Breakfast, will add glamour to the proceedings, along with Zeinab Badawi, the Channel 4 news reader, and Stella McCartney, Chloe fashion designer and daughter of Sir Paul McCartney.

Judy Simpson, the athlete, will be one of the group, as will the Minister without Portfolio, Peter Mandelson, the independent MP Martin Bell, and Sir Colin Marshall, of British Airways.

Ms Badawi said the panel would be particularly appealing to young people. "Ours is a forward-looking country where newcomers are increasingly encouraged to make their mark. Panel 2000 can do much to dispel the outdated belief that this is a rigid society bound by tradition," she said.

Mr Bell said: "This is not a matter of image but of reality, of a country that is reinventing itself and is as confident of its future as it is proud of its past."

This is not the first attempt by New Labour to associate itself with the trendier end of British society.

A Creative Industries Task force chaired by Chris Smith, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, has Richard Branson and Lord Puttnam among its members. There is also a Music Forum which has been advised by the Simply Red singer Mick Hucknall. Panel 2000 to forge a new image THE panel is chaired by the Foreign Office Minister Derek Fatchett. Its members are as follows. Private sector: Waheed Ali (Planet 24), Zeinab Badawi, pictured right (Channel 4), Martin Bell MP, Baroness Chalker (former Tory minister), Dr Frances D'Souza (Article 19), David John (British Oxygen Company), Mark Leonard (Demos), Lord Levy (MG Records), Ruth Mackenzie (Scottish Opera), Sir Colin Marshall (British Airways), Stella McCartney (Chloe), Lord Paul (Caparo), Shahwar Sadeque (consultant IT/Educatio n), Judy Simpson (athlete), Martin Sorrell (WPT), John Sorrell (Newell & Sorrell/Design Council), Harriet Ware-Austin (Amnesty International). Public sector: Baroness Blackstone (Minister for Education and Employment), Lord Clinton-Davis (Department of Trade and Industry), Dr David Drewry (British Council), Mark Fisher MP (Arts Minister), Andrew Fraser (Invest in Britain Bureau), Tom Harris (De partment of Trade and Industry), Roger Liddle (No 10 Policy Unit), Peter Mandelson (Minister without Portfolio), David Quarmby (British Tourist Authority). Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Baroness Symons (Parliamentary Under Secretary), Sir John Kerr (Permanent Under Secretary), Sir Michael Jay (British ambassador in Paris), Claire Fulton, Priya Guha, and Vivien Life.