McCartney warming to overtures from home city

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It is the question dogging Sir Paul McCartney: not how much of his moolah Heather Mills will receive in the divorce settlement, but whether he will finally agree to take part in Liverpool's 2008 European Capital of Culture festival.

The project has signed up Yoko Ono, the World Firefighter Games and the fraggle-haired Scouse baton-wielder Sir Simon Rattle - but has been beset by difficulties, including the departure of its artistic director and two senior council officials.

In February, McCartney said he had no plans to play in his home city. But a source working on the festival says organisers believe Macca is at last "warming" to their overtures, and may be willing "to play the rescue card".

"We've been trying hard for a long time to get him on board, and we think it's going to pay off," said the source.

"You think 'Liverpool' and you think 'The Beatles'. It would be a glorious return for him to his roots. It would end the negative press and show the special place he has in the public affection."

A spokesman for Liverpool 2008 sought to play down the rumour, stressing the line-up was not finalised: "We made an approach to him at the beginning of the year. He'd just done a world tour and told us that he doesn't do anything for six months after that.

"There's more to life than whether one of the two surviving members of a 40-year-old combo is going to turn up."

McCartney was not available to comment.

Johnny Borrell sees the green light

Excepting Radiohead's Thom Yorke, the green movement still lacks celebrity supporters with long hair, foul mouths or purple sunglasses.

The backing of Razorlight's singer, Johnny Borrell, is a boon then. "I'm playing at the Stop Climate Chaos rally in Trafalgar Square on 4 November," Borrell, left, tells me, after a solo acoustic set on Thursday night. "We'll have to wait and see whether it's the whole band or just me."

He saw Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth one month ago and felt moved to ring Friends of the Earth to offer his services.

Spotting a (melting) iceberg ahead, Borrell eschews the idea that he can be some sort of Bono or Bob Geldof for the environment: "I'm not trying to be a hero rock star. When you're in a band what you can do is highlight the work of people who make the world a better place. They're the heroes, not rock stars."

A stay of execution

Film critics have questioned Dustin Hoffman's offerings this last decade, his seventh on Earth. Wag the Dog in 1997 was the last to light their fires (2004's Meet the Fockers became one of the highest grossing comedies, but some felt it tarnished his venerated status).

Stranger than Fiction, in which Hoffman plays a doctor of literature helping taxman Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) to discover which novelist plans to kill him, invites favourable reviews. Not that it's going to his head.

"It's just a stay of execution for me," Hoffman tells me at the Sky Movies film festival afterparty on Friday night. "The axe has been a long time coming. It's going to fall on me soon. It gets all of us in the end."

Context: when he talks about "the axe", he means having to lie by the pool all the time.

Sparks fly

Turning to the soon-to-be-broken second marriage of Stephen Hawking ... The scientist denies reports he has had an affair, and his wife, Elaine, refutes claims she ever physically abused him. Might their split be due to artistic differences?

Two years ago, Pandora reported that Hawking's return to The Simpsons had caused difficulties. Mrs Hawking, a trained nurse, objected to Homer receiving controversial electro-convulsive shock therapy in the episode. "I told Stephen of my concerns," she said, "but he thinks it's fine."

Hawking's comment on the matter, a line from the cartoon, was: "You are looking at the new owner of the Little Caesar's down the street. Pizza, pizza. Pizza, pizza. Pizza, pizza. Sorry, that button sticks."

Emma suffers for her art

Writers are one of the few groups whose members still consider smoking socially acceptable - even desirable. Emma Thompson plays an author chain-puffing through writer's block in Stranger than Fiction (see Hoffman, above).

At the premiere on Friday, a fan asked her: "Do you think you'll get away with smoking onscreen?"

A startled Thompson stuttered before shooting back: ""I was the one who had to smoke for three weeks! I'm the one who has got to 'get away with it', and not get ill! I should have got smoke money. All they gave me was a couple of tissues and an Oyster card.

"Do you really think I'm going to encourage people to smoke? Just look at me in the film. I'm sick!" Thompson's right: she looks pretty rough. Even for a writer.