Extra security raises the cost of Major's batting average

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The Independent Online

* When John Major was Prime Minister, he described England as a land of "long shadows on county cricket grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and old maids bicycling through the morning mist."

Absent from his checklist were the political hot potatoes of public spending and bobbies on the beat. So it's ironic to learn that, each time Major watches his favourite sport, the taxpayer is presented with a bill for extra security.

Documents released by West Midlands Police reveal that extra officers were required to provide security for Major on both of his social visits to Edgbaston last season.

Following inquiries under the Freedom of Information Act, the force has disclosed that Major's cricketing visits accounted for two of its 64 VIP visits last year. Each such trip costs them an average of £809 per day.

Since the PM has been in evidence at most of this summer's England games, the cost of holding his hand during the five-match, 25 day Ashes series is likely to run to several thousand pounds.

What is more, Major is often to be found watching county matches at the Oval in his capacity as President of Surrey.

Putting an exact cost on his passion for sport is tough, though. West Midlands Police said last night: "We don't have a breakdown, but these sort of visits are likely to be slightly cheaper for us than the £809 average."

* We still don't know who's going to be the next James Bond, but I can reveal the identity of the latest starlet to become a Bond Girl.

Well, up to a point, anyway: the singer Natasha Bedingfield has agreed to perform official Bond sidekick duties in From Russia With Love, the computer game of the 1970s film.

Sean Connery will also reprise his most famous role for the game, which features Bedingfield singing on its soundtrack.

In a minor rewrite of the original plot, she plays the British Prime Minister's daughter, who is kidnapped and taken to Russia, and professes herself: "thrilled and delighted" to have landed the role.

According to EA, who made the game Bedingfield hopes to go on to land a similar role on the big screen in the future.

In the meantime, the highlight of her appearance comes during the opening credits, when her assets can be admired in the traditional silhouette sequence.

* Ping! It's an e-mail from Jools Holland who recently announced his engagement to a top toff tottie: Christabel, Lady Durham. For some reason, the Crown Prince of TV jazz would like to make a few things clear.

"Contrary to a report in one national newspaper today, HRH Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales and HRH Camilla Mountbatten-Windsor, the Duchess of Cornwall, will not be attending the marriage of Jools Holland and Lady Christabel Durham (nee McEwan)," reads the e-mail.

Further information will be released shortly, but Holland's spokesman is anxious to play down talk of a snub: at the time of the wedding next March, our future King and Queen will be on their annual holiday in Scotland.

* For most footballers, a night of "culture" would end in fisticuffs, page three girls, and a kiss-and-tell for next Sunday's red-tops. But Gordon Strachan is cut from a different cloth.

On Monday, the carrot-topped Celtic manager turned up at the Edinburgh Festival, where - believe it or not - he claims to be a regular visitor.

"I'm a girl, so have no idea who Gordon Strachan is," reports one local. "But he collared me when he saw I was wearing a security pass and said: 'Help me get a ticket for Brendon Burns. He's sold out and the wife and I are desperate to see him.'"

"I helped him get in touch with Burns' PR, and when offering thanks he softened and said: 'Not many people expect to see me at an arts festival, but I love it.' It turns out that he goes every year, and is keen on comedy and experimental theatre."

* With Tony Blair on his summer holidays, it is left to John Prescott to stir up tension between the political classes of Britain and France.

At yesterday's lobby briefing, el Prezzadente was asked - during a discussion on the varying cost of housing across Europe - why the French authorities spend more on public housing than the British.

"When the French are building their affordable homes, then it's bound to cost more, because they've got to put in all those bloody bidets," came his reply.

Johnny Frog wasn't the only thing on Prezza's hitlist. Asked about reports that he's "slapped down" David Blunkett for getting too big for his boots, the Deputy PM muttered: "I'd rather slap down a few journalists."