Lambeth Palace spins its way into papal PR embarrassment

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The Independent Online

Dr Rowan Williams is Lambeth Palace's most media-savvy inhabitant in recent history, but the forces of spin do not always sit comfortably with the demands of high spiritual office.

Dr Rowan Williams is Lambeth Palace's most media-savvy inhabitant in recent history, but the forces of spin do not always sit comfortably with the demands of high spiritual office.

Last week, the Archbishop of Canterbury issued a press release announcing he was to attend Pope Benedict XVI's inauguration. This would, it claimed, make him the first head of the Church of England to attend such an event since the Reformation.

Although the claim was repeated by several national newspapers, it happens to be untrue. In fact, Dr Donald Coggan travelled to Rome to attend John Paul II's inauguration in 1978.

Lambeth Palace eventually retracted the incorrect press release, but not before it had intrigued religious observers. They see it as evidence of a hasty - and botched - attempt to "muscle in" on the recent coverage of papal affairs.

"There has been an air of desperation, as if Lambeth Palace must remind people it exists," reports one church correspondent. "Rowan Williams was not involved, but he'll be furious about this. It makes him look stupid, as if he's tried to take credit where it isn't due."

Dr Williams' spokesman yesterday blamed a cock-up rather than a conspiracy. "It's certainly not true to say we were trying to muscle in," he said. "It was just a very embarrassing mistake. Our archives contained information on two inaugurations in 1978, and we unfortunately checked paperwork relating to the wrong one."

Victoria Wood's first visit to the West End for more than a decade is going to be rather shorter than we might have hoped.

Her new musical Acorn Antiques - which Wood both wrote and takes a regular minor role in - is to close next month after a run of just 16 weeks.

Although the show received some positive reviews, it attracted unwelcome publicity after it emerged that tickets for some performances were on sale at £65, one of the highest prices in West End history.

Despite that controversy, Wood's producers, Phil McIntyre, deny that this was responsible for Acorn Antiques' demise. They say that their cast, led by Julie Walters and Neil Morrissey, were only contracted until 21 May, and that no one has been found to replace them.

"Getting the principals together for this amount of time was a feat in itself," they said yesterday.

"Ticket sales have been excellent, but the show was only ever going to run until May."

Julia Roberts is helping Paul Newman and Robert Redford to make one last film together. After more than 30 years apart, the Hollywood veterans - pictured as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - have embarked on a screen version of Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods.

I owe this nugget of information to the former Blue Peter presenter Tim Vincent, who now works for NBC in Hollywood.

He interviewed all three at the recent Tribeca film festival, and tells me: "It hasn't been broadcast yet, but, in a nutshell, both Redford and Paul Newman confirmed that the project is a goer. Julia Roberts [above] told me: 'I want to be in it, and mean to be in it'."

Paul Newman is 80, and is said to regard Bryson's work as a fitting subject on which to end his 55-year career.

Where is Ken Livingstone? The Mayor of London might be one of Labour's best known "faces", but he's not exactly at the forefront of their election campaign.

The London Assembly Conservatives complain that Ken's cancelled his weekly press conferences, and has been seen out on the stump just three times: in Croydon, Bethnal Green, and Fulham, where a bag of sugar was thrown over him.

Citing a recent ICM poll - which claimed voters regard Livingstone as a "liability" after he likened a Jewish journalist to a concentration camp guard - they say he's been accorded "John Prescott status".

"This is when someone's considered such a liability that they're sent off to the regions to be kept out of harm's way," I'm told.

Tory vice-chairman Andrew Rosindell - a colourful chap, known for dressing his pet bulldog in a union jack - makes an intriguing entry in the new Register of Members' Interests.

It reports a donation from a local company called Secrets. Its line of business is not mentioned, but a firm of that name does run a string of "gentleman's clubs" across the south-east. Could this be the Tory donor in question?

"I don't know," Rosindell tells me. "I've no knowledge of lap-dancing. The donation came from a Romford businessman, who wanted to help with a civic pin badge project. It was a community thing, and nothing political."

Strip joints are all the rage in Tory circles: the other night, Rozza's political hero, Baroness Thatcher, visited Peter Stringfellow's eponymous club in London's West End.