Book contract nets McKenna a mesmerising £3m advance

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* He may not be everyone's idea of a literary genius, but Paul McKenna has just become one of the most powerful men in British publishing.

* He may not be everyone's idea of a literary genius, but Paul McKenna has just become one of the most powerful men in British publishing.

On Monday, the celebrity hypnotist - who has counselled a virtual A-Z of public figures, from the Duchess of York to Robbie Williams - signed a book deal for an extraordinary £3m advance, the largest ever paid to a non-fiction author in this country.

The three-book contract with Transworld publishers was signed after a month-long auction conducted by McKenna's literary agents, PFD. Although the exact sums are expected to remain secret, some details will be announced to the industry later this week.

McKenna's street value has rocketed in the past year, following the surprise success of his lifestyle guide Change Your Life in Seven Days, which sold 400,000 copies and stayed in the top 10 lists for 14 months. Its sequel, I Can Make You Thin, has sold 350,000 copies in the last two months.

Publishing sources reckon his new books will follow a similar format, and deal with four new areas: confidence, intelligence, wealth and quitting smoking. For Transworld to recoup their "staggering" advance, the guides will all have to top the charts for several months.

Meanwhile, McKenna's spokesman confirmed last night: "Yes, he has signed with Transworld, and is very happy with the deal."

* RICKY GERVAIS claims to have rejected a £5m "golden handcuffs" deal with the BBC, but there are limits to his pulling power.

Jude Law has just resigned from the cast of his new TV series, Extras , at the last minute, citing "filming commitments."

It's a blow, since an entire episode of the series, which is currently being filmed, was to centre on the Hollywood star.

"Jude Law is filming something in the States, and his shoot has been extended," says a spokesman for Gervais, left.

"Ricky was looking forward to working with him, but he and Stephen Merchant have reluctantly decided to put Jude's script on hold."

Quite why Law's trip to America has been extended is not known, but the actor must be away from home for some time - Extras is being filmed for several months to come.

* FRANK SKINNER could be on the verge of heading reluctantly up the aisle. For, at the recording of ITV's An Audience With Al Murray, he was forced to propose to his on-off girlfriend of several years, Cathy Mason (pictured).

"As part of his act, Murray got Skinner to pop the question, using a sovereign ring from his landlord's outfit," I'm told. "Everyone found it hilarious, except Skinner, who looked extremely put out."

Skinner and Murray share the same agents, Avalon, which might explain why the incident was cut from the show, which was broadcast on Saturday. But the agent says otherwise, claiming that they "filmed 20 minutes more than was needed."

As to whether Skinner's marriage proposal still stands, no comment was forthcoming.

* CHARLOTTE CHURCH and her latest boyfriend, Welsh rugby hero Gavin Henson, are already touted as the Celtic Posh'n'Becks.

In keeping with this sporting parallel, the perky singer has begun to attract the derision of sports anoraks.

"At Saturday's Six Nations decider, I was sitting 10 yards from Miss Church and her mother," writes one reader. "Either they are both short-sighted, or they know nothing at all about the game."

"Firstly, they were constantly mistaking Henson for his fly half, Stephen Jones. Secondly, they twice began shouting that Gavin had scored a 'goal', when, as any fool knows, he kicks penalties."

Still, you can't fault their enthusiasm, can you?

* Despite vigorous competition, Denis Healey has for some time owned the bushiest set of eyebrows in British politics.

No longer: the former Chancellor's wife, Edna, has tamed them with a pair of nail scissors. His new, trim facial hair was on display at yesterday's Oldie of the Year awards.

"At the event, Barry Cryer turned to Healey, and began moaning that he's turning 70 tomorrow and is starting to have problems with his bushy eyebrows," I'm told. "Healey replied that it's also become an obsession of Edna's, and that she trims his with her toenail scissors. It was a strange conversation, but quite in keeping with the spirit of the event."