A song and a dance: Straw's sister in cathedral controversy

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The Independent Online

* Try as he might, Jack Straw doesn't always succeed in bringing happiness to distant corners of the globe. Fascinating, then, to discover that the Foreign Secretary's knack of upsetting the locals runs in the family.

Straw's sister Suzy, a professional spiritual dancer, who trained in Qigong, yoga, Paneurythmy and the zodiac,has caused an unseemly row amid the pews of Brecon Cathedral.

It's all been caused by the dean's decision to let Ms Straw celebrate the recent full moon by holding an event there entitled: "Encircling the Land with Sacred Dance".

Traditionalists within the congregation believe Ms Straw's event, which involved several "ritual dances," to be steeped in pagan tradition, and have bombarded the cathedral authorities with letters of complaint.

"The dedication of the evening was... to 'mother earth' and 'the masters'," reads one such letter.

"[Ms Straw] told me she believes in reincarnation, astrology and magic. It is dishonouring to God to hold this event in a cathedral. It was also quite a shock to see one of your clerics joining in the dance."

The dean, John Davies, admits receiving complaints about Ms Straw's performance, but tells me: "As long as people are not expressing an opinion that is at odds with Christian faith, I'm pleased to welcome everyone to the church."

Straw, for her part, says she's a Christian "in an ecumenical sense" and that zodiacal aspects of her act were originally practised by the "early Church".

* Scarlett Johansson was all sweetness and light at the premiere of Match Point on Sunday, posing for the cameras and simpering prettily to Her Majesty's press corps.

Behind the smile, things were rather less splendid, as journalists attending a press conference at the Dorchester the next day managed to find out.

A stray microphone at the lunchtime event caught Johansson "bitching" about the previous evening's proceedings to her co-star, Matthew Goode.

"Oh my god, I didn't see you at all last night. What did you think?" she asked, before rolling her eyes skyward.

"I thought the whole thing was awful. None of the British journalists had seen the movie and they were all asking me the dumbest questions."

The after-party, at Asprey, doesn't seem to have been much fun for La Johansson, either.

"I was like, 'what is going on here?'" she added. "And then the party, well, whatever. It was so stiff, I left really early."

* It's going right off between Simon Cowell and Steve Brookstein, the winner of last year's X Factor talent show.

An item posted on Brookstein's internet site accuses pantomime villain Cowell, who recently dropped him from record label BMG - of cutting dodgy deals with a Sunday newspaper.

"Steve sold a story to the News of the World for five grand to be donated to the NSPCC, only to see it stopped, allegedly by Simon Cowell, due to the adverse content of the piece," it reads.

Cowell's PR man is Max Clifford. "That's a lot of nonsense," he tells me. "The News of the World didn't run that interview because Steve wasn't saying anything new.

"If Steve had been talking about Simon Cowell's love life, then I might have got involved. But that would have been worth £500k, not £5,000." Intriguing!

* The restaurant critic AA Gill is the subject of an unflattering e-mail doing the rounds of Fleet Street.

Written by a noted travel journalist, it accuses Gill and his "blonde", Nicola Formby, of knocking over a small child in pursuit of a taxi.

"I went to the premiere of Narnia with my 11-year-old daughter," it reads. "After the party in Hyde Park, we were queuing up for a cab.

"Eventually, one pulled up, but just as my daughter was about to jump in, a blonde woman literally trampled over her. Then I saw AA Gill get sheepishly in with her.

"There was a proper queue, and everything. They knew they'd done wrong, because when I started shouting about it being a disgrace, Gill hid his face behind the seat back."

* Some will do anything for a free lunch. Further down the scale, Lord Brocket is prepared to put his neck on the line for a glass of bubbly and some mince pies.

On Monday, the reality TV star turned up at the Kensington offices of the Daily Mail, where a staff Christmas party was in full swing. Hanging off his arm was his bubbly fiancée, Harriet Warren.

"Brocket clearly doesn't mind being thrown in with the sharks," I'm told. "He and Harriet were quite cheerfully chatting to a load of journalists who have been absolutely frightful to them over the years."

Indeed. According to previous editions of the Mail, Brocket is either a "rogue", a "louche ex-jailbird", or a "libidinous ex-con". Meanwhile "friends" have told the newspaper that his future wife is a "gold-digger".

pandora@independent.co.uk

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