Muslim Council leader steps into the ring with gay rivals

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The Independent Online

* Sir Iqbal Sacranie is stepping back into the lion's den, just days after he picked a fight with the gay community by going on the radio to declare that homosexuality is "immoral" and "spreads disease".

Next Saturday, the Muslim Council leader - who said: "In terms of health, in terms of the moral issues that come along in a society, [being gay] isn't acceptable" - will go head to head against two of Britain's most outspoken gay rights campaigners.

Sir Iqbal has agreed to appear at the Fabian Society's new year conference with Stonewall's chief executive Ben Summerskill and Gordon Marsden, the openly gay Labour MP.

Although they're officially supposed to be discussing "faith schools", organisers now expect it to degenerate into a slanging match about gay rights.

"They were booked months ago, so this is all a coincidence, but we're now expecting it to go right off," I'm told. "Fabian events are normally full of cappuccino-sipping eggheads; this could be war."

Summerskill certainly thinks so. "I don't know about fireworks, but I'll certainly be teasing Iqbal.

"From someone who accepted a knighthood, his comments were very strange. Doesn't he realise how many of his fellow knights are also gay?"

* For all her happy-go-lucky exuberance, Carol Thatcher isn't afraid of pulling a few strings to protect her modesty.

Why else could ITV have decided to slap an embargo on footage of the former PM's daughter relieving herself in the middle of the I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here! jungle camp?

Their lawyers this week prevented Five from broadcasting the incident during a documentary on the top celebrity misdemeanours of the past year.

"We weren't able to show the clip, because we were informed by ITV that the footage was embargoed," says a channel Five spokesman. "It did seem a bit strange."

Frank Skinner is also believed to have tried - and failed - to broadcast images of La Thatcher squatting next to her hammock. The footage was apparently expunged from his chat show before broadcast.

ITV remains unapologetic, though. "There is indeed an embargo on that particular clip," they tell me. "We are simply trying to protect Carol."

* Could Oona King perhaps be tempted to follow the well-trodden path from political has-been to reality TV starlet?

I only ask because sources at ITV say the former MP was asked to compete in Dancing On Ice, a version of Come Dancing, to be fronted by Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean.

"For some reason, Oona never made the cut," I'm told. "We don't know if it was her decision or ours, but it's a missed opportunity: look what reality TV did for Neil Hamilton and Ann Widdecombe."

King's office says she's on holiday until 15 January. This has led to separate (and, at the time of going to print, unconfirmed) rumours that she'll be jollifying Celebrity Big Brother.

* It pains me to say this, but Piers Morgan may be a more competent swordsman than we originally thought.

Yesterday, readers heard from "Sally," who had dubbed the former Daily Mirror editor "Mr Floppy" following an unsatisfactory encounter in a hotel bedroom.

Today, I give you testimony from "Jessica", who writes to tell me: "I can't agree with a single word that Sally spat out.

"Piers was a tower of strength in the trouser department. In fact, for a lazy bed-mistress such as myself, it was like sexual boot camp with a naked, 6 ft marine. He made me laugh almost as many times as he made me ..."

Happily, Morgan can now explain his inconsistent performance. "Arsenal can't always raise their game against Hartlepool United in quite the same way that they can against Real Madrid," he tells me.

* When Robbie Williams opens his mouth, the form book requires us to take a pinch of sodium chloride. So it may or may not be worth believing reports that the eccentric pop star is on the verge of quitting music to become a stand-up comedian.

In an interview with the German newspaper Die Zeit, Williams explains that he'd like to follow in the footsteps of his father, Peter - a former contestant on the TV talent show New Faces - in a bid to dispel his troubled image.

"My father was a stand-up comedian for years. Maybe I will be one day, too," he comments. "I notice sometimes, on stage, that the music suddenly gets in the way because I just want to talk to the audience or make them laugh."

Williams, incidentally, has "form" in comedy circles: he once appeared in Little Britain, playing a useless transvestite.

pandora@independent.co.uk

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