Manchester gets its own royal scandal

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WHAT has the Queen got against Manchester? This is the question that was puzzling Fleet Street last night on the first day of the monarch's visit to the city that toppled Russia's own royals.

During a private meeting with a group of hand-picked Russian students at St Petersburg State University, the Queen spoke, among others, to Galina Gusarrova, 28, a biologist.

As a conversational gambit, the latter mentioned that she had been an exchange student in Manchester, which is twinned with St Petersburg. The Queen, according to Ms Gusarrova, said that the city was 'not such a nice place'. Levity, recklessness or just a linguistic misunderstanding?

Buckingham Palace prefers the latter explanation - or just possibly the first. 'The Queen did most certainly not say she disliked Manchester,' a royal spokesman said. 'There was a light- hearted exchange about Manchester as a place to study.'

Manchester MPs were quick to rally to the city's defence last night. Bob Litherland (Lab, Manchester Central) cited the airport, 'gateway to the north', and the inner city, 'transformed in recent years'.

The Queen last went to Manchester in July 1992 and was due to have visited it again in March last year but cried off because she was suffering from 'flu. She is scheduled to return, more precisely to Rochdale, in December.