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God of footie floods BBC with fan mail

BRITAIN is in the grip of a cult. A fever is sweeping the nation and a twinkle-eyed, moustachioed TV presenter is to blame. For Des-mania has hit Britain.

The television audience has jumped by 2.5m extra viewers because of the World Cup coverage, most going to the evening games hosted by Des Lynam. The BBC has received over 10,000 adoring e-mails and fan letters addressed to the man once described as the third great white entertainer of the Twentieth Century after Presley and Sinatra.

Among the e-mails addressed to the smooth one last week, was a request from two A-level students in southern England that he apply his special God-like powers to helping them pass their exams. Another came from a teenager who wants him to become her dad.

And Des himself is everywhere. On top of a highly secretive four-year contract at the BBC believed to be worth almost pounds 1m, the charming presenter is believed to be earning another pounds 160,000 from the five advertising campaigns that are currently making use of his status as the nation's favourite TV presenter.

In the run up to the World Cup, Des appeared, fittingly, as a kind of deity in a TV campaign for Right Guard deodorant, for which he is believed to have been paid pounds 80,000. On top of that, and for a similar fee, he also appears in a TV campaign for Miracle Grow fertilisers and plant food - having a similarly Godlike effect on plants as he has on a parting swimming pool in the Right Guard ad.

As well as these on-screen endorsements, the gentle timbre of the great man's dulcet tones features in the voice-over for a Sainsbury's campaign and a CD of football songs entitled Classics from the Terrace. For voice- over work a celebrity of Des's calibre is able to command fees of at least pounds 500 per hour. Then there is "Des's Dream Team", an on-pack and in-pub promotion for Boddingtons bitter.

The great man is even more ubiquitous than England striker Alan Shearer who is only managing to support McDonald's, Lucozade and an electric shaver on top of his Umbro boot deal.

"Des has been given his iconic status," says his agent Jane Morgan. "He hasn't courted it. He has been extremely popular for a long time, but with the World Cup, the BBC drama, My Summer With Des, and all the other big sporting events, it's been a very big year for Des.

"He doesn't just advertise anything, he would only consider adverts if he thinks it is the right thing to do and the BBC is fully aware of everything he does."

Carol Vorderman fell foul of the BBC for trading off her scientific status for a soap powder advert that she starred in. She was dropped from Tomorrow's World because of the advert but the BBC has no problem with Des trading off his image as a TV God.

"Obviously we evaluate all the commercial activities of the on-screen talent," says a BBC spokeswoman. "There is no problem with any of Des's work."