Mandelson's mates tell British brickies to put their tops on

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The Independent Online

Today, MEPs will vote on the EU's proposed Optical Radiation directive, which aims to prevent manual workers such as welders from being exposed to harmful artificial radiation.

Unfortunately, Mandy's chums on the Commission have drafted the law so that it holds employers responsible for protecting workers from the sun's radiation too. And that threatens to kill off a great British institution: the topless builder.

Unlike other Euro-rows - think straight bananas, or metric martyrs - this one is transcending usual political divides, with opposition being led by the pro-European Liberal Democrat MEP, Liz Lynne.

"This is a ludicrous situation," she says. "I'm pro-European, but this sort of thing brings the EU into disrepute, and I want it thrown out, for the sake of Britain's bare-chested builders.

"There is no reason why an employer should be responsible for someone getting sunburn. In fact, several builders have told me that getting a tan is one of the perks of the job."

Lynne is tabling an amendment, which has support from all but the powerful Socialist voting block in the parliament.

Meanwhile, should Mandelson wish to preserve the right of an English bricklayer to display his manly chest, he'll need a quiet word with Vladimir Spidla, the Commissioner who drafted the directive.

* When the Duchess of York's daughter, Princess Beatrice, celebrated her 17th birthday with a fashion shoot in Tatler, some thought it a gallant effort to raise money for charity.

Others found the project vulgar, since a significant proportion of newspaper syndication fees for the photographs were paid to the magazine's publisher.

Now Isabella Blow, who was in charge of the photo-shoot, has re-ignited the row by admitting she used the occasion to plug clothing and accessories produced by Tatler's advertisers.

Blow says her job "was just making [Beatrice] look young and sexy, using the colours and getting the advertisers in. Otherwise [Tatler's editor] Geordie Greig would have killed me."

Maybe, but should a royal teenager be allowed to take part in such a cynical marketing exercise?

Spin-doctors for Fergie - pictured left, with Beatrice - wouldn't comment yesterday. Greig, meanwhile, stressed that advertisers were not rewarded with plugs in the actual text of the interview.

* As yet another Pride and Prejudice hits the big screen, happy news for fans of Colin Firth, the original Mr Darcy. His next film, Where the Truth Lies - in which he plays a sexually deviant murderer - provides viewers with many a glimpse of his well honed physique.

"It's not my favourite thing," he claims. "I found it a little weird. You come to work, have breakfast, shake hands, take your clothes off, leap on top of a gorgeous-looking actress and pretend to have sex with her. I was relieved not to be there for more of it, to be honest."

Before that's shown, Firth stars in Nanny McPhee, with Emma Thompson. Discussing her many attributes in Now magazine, he notes: "It is very hard to talk about Emma Thompson without making people vomit."

That's because she's too nice, apparently.

* Yesterday, I learned of a showdown between David Blunkett and Piers Morgan, who will headline Cancer Research UK's "Turn the Tables" lunch next month.

If the prospect of a former home secretary interviewing someone who dubbed him "emotionally unhinged to the point of outright dementia" isn't mouth-watering enough, Pandora readers now have a chance to jollify proceedings.

Blunkett wants you to suggest a "killer question" for him to ask the former Daily Mirror editor. It will be deployed at a key moment during his interview, with a view to causing him some form of acute embarrassment.

E-mail your ideas to the above address - the finest will be asked on the day, and win its writer a bottle of the splendid Dom Perignon 1998.

* Is all well with Sir Rocco Forte's latest pet project, the relaunch of Brown's hotel in Mayfair?

I only ask, because two years after he gained control of the iconic building - and 10 months after it closed for refurbishment - Forte's new venture is yet to re-open.

His official internet site claims the work will be completed by "autumn 2005," but Forte now says idle British workmen have delayed proceedings still further.

"Brown's is going very slowly. It's now finally on track to open at the beginning of December but that's long overdue." he said, at the Condé Nast Traveller Awards.

"The problem is builders. You know what they're like, everyone does: they're just slow. Things keep being put back. I've found that builders in Germany - and actually in Italy too - are absolutely fine, but in England they're very slow."