Christian group furious at 'Springer's' £30,000 grant

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The Independent Online

It's the final insult. After a long, shouty, and largely unsuccessful campaign, Britain's religious right has discovered that Jerry Springer: The Opera is to receive a government subsidy.

Last week, the Arts Council sneaked out a statement confirming it had approved a £30,000 grant to finance the musical's national tour.

The money, which is officially intended to finance "audience development", will be paid to three regional venues where the show is to be staged over the coming month.

Not surprisingly, the pressure group Christian Voice, who have run a colourful campaign against the show, pictured, are apoplectic at the news.

They have already protested outside several theatres where the show has been staged, and will now consider a bigger demonstration outside the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

"It would not be possible for this show to be any more blasphemous and insulting to Christians if it tried. I cannot believe it has qualified for public money," says spokesman Stephen Green.

"It needs the money to keep it going. As far as I am concerned, Jerry Springer: The Opera appeals to people who like treading in dog shit. Taxpayers have no business supporting it."

Until recently, the Arts Council seemed to agree. Despite subsidising the Battersea Arts Centre (where the show was developed) and National Theatre (where it premiered), it last year refused a £500,000 grant to fund its entire tour.

* Jon Bon Jovi is the bookies' favourite to become the next victim of the so-called "curse" of Wembley.

In June, he's kicking off a series of summer pop concerts at our new national stadium, which is supposed to host the FA Cup Final a month earlier.

Unfortunately, there's one pressing problem: six years, and £600m, after work started, Wembley is still a country mile from completion.

Last week, the FA admitted that it was only "70 per cent" likely to be finished by the May deadline. Now Bon Jovi is biting his fingers.

"The Bon Jovi gig is a sell-out, and is supposed to be followed by gigs from Robbie Williams and the Rolling Stones," says a source at the FA.

"We can move footie matches to Cardiff, but you can't do that with pop concerts. If the ground isn't ready, they'll be cancelled. It would cost a fortune."

Still, the organisers don't seem worried. Bon Jovi's promoters say they've no contingency plans, should the stadium not be ready in time.

* Most trendy artists endorse the Palestinian cause, but Damien Hirst plays a different tune: he's making a £1m donation to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

That venue, home to some of the world's most important Jewish artefacts, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, is one of Israel's cultural "crown jewels".

Hirst has agreed to donate a series of diptychs called Love Love to mark the 40th anniversary of its opening.

Local commentators will be tempted to read this as a political gesture. But with at least half an eye on the tinderbox that is Middle East current affairs, Hirst's spokesman says he's merely repaying an old favour.

"The Israel Museum was the first to recognise Damien's work," I'm told.

"The museum's curator of contemporary art, Suzanne Landau, met him in Paris in 1991, and was seriously looking at his art long before anyone else."

* Prince William is back in the news, after socialising with a drug-hoofing crowd from the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester.

A few years back, Prince Harry also had regrettable dealings with the RAC after being introduced to cannabis by some of its students.

Now The Field magazine is to publish a stern investigation into the debauched social scene at the Cotswold "finishing" school.

"Traditionally a 'love league' runs throughout the year," it notes. "Students are awarded 10 points for a snog, working up to 100 for going the whole hog. Bonuses are awarded for bonking in designated spots, such as the college haystack."

Apparently, a score of 500 is deemed "acceptable".

* On this St Valentine's Day, proof that true love can soften the heart of every battle-hardened professional cynic.

Two of Britain's foremost spin-doctors, Mark Bolland and Guy Black, tied the knot at Islington Town Hall on Saturday.

Although they're the most powerful gay "newlyweds" since Elton 'n' David, it was a low-key affair. A dozen guests celebrated the occasion at the Poule au Pot in Belgravia.

"Mark and Guy kept it simple, because head-bangers use the term 'gay marriage' as a form of attack," I'm told. "So there wasn't a fuss. But they did spend January on a detox, and looked splendid."

Black - a former Press Complaints Commission head, who ran Michael Howard's PR - and Bolland, Prince Charles's former spinner, can certainly pull strings.

Their official witnesses were The Sun editor Rebekah Wade and the Telegraph Group chief executive, Murdoch MacLennan.