Pandora: Anyone for tennis? Blair seeks to net a new British champion

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The Independent Online

Since leaving Downing Street, Tony Blair has pledged his commitment to supporting far-reaching causes ranging from the Middle East and Africa to tackling climate change.

Big tasks, all of them. But none quite so demanding as the next target the former Prime Minister, right, has set himself.

Unlikely as it sounds, Blair's office has just proposed an ambitious challenge which will help find a future British tennis champion. Workers at the recently created Tony Blair Sports Foundation have written to primary schools based around Blair's native north- east urging them to take part in an annual competition for aspiring players.

The contest, which will be grandly named The Tony Blair Tennis Competition, aims to help find players for the future who will restore Britain's battered reputation on the international tennis circuit.

"It's about encouraging participation and getting more children competing," says a spokesman. "It will be held in the summer term of 2008 and should be easy to put on, so we're expecting lots of interest."

So far, former British number one Greg Rusedski has already pledged his support to the scheme.

But it's apparently still too early days to know whether any of Blair's other colourful tennis chums will be involved in the sporting competition.

A useful player himself, Tone's regular playing partners include Sir Cliff Richard and his well-connected former fundraiser Lord Levy.

Take That! Is Girl Power over already?

The Spice Girls returned to London last weekend to the usual giddy fanfare which accompanies a comeback.

According to the show's promoters, all 20,000 tickets to Saturday's opening night of the girls' British tour at London's 02 Arena, sold out in 38 seconds. Their second show on Sunday turned out not to be quite so rammed. A male colleague (who has understandably asked to remain nameless) reports that there were so many spare seats he was able to stretch his legs in comfort. "I'd say there were a couple of hundred empty," he tells me.

"Not that many, granted, but then it was only their second night. The tour continues right the way through January, so it does make you wonder."

So if you've been put off by the hype, don't despair. I notice tickets for tonight's show are still available for sale.

Fur flies over Burberry

British designer Christopher Bailey's row with the People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals is about to turn ugly.

Bailey, creative force behind trendy outfitters Burberry, has been involved in a long-running dispute with the provocative animal rights group over his label's use of fur.

During the autumn, British actress Julie Christie, 66, fired off a furious letter to Bailey on Peta's behalf to castigate him for using animal furs.

Now, they've launched a website called Bloody Burberry which calls on the labels followers to boycott the controversial brand.

Bailey is likely to view the attack as bittersweet. While it is mildly offensive in tone, he has also often despaired of his label having a "chav" image.

Yes, Minster

Last Friday, you might recall I wrote of the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, applying for an alcohol licence for the gothic cathedral York Minster.

The purpose of the licence was to save the hassle of applying for a temporary one each time a function is held at the Minster when drinks are served.

A spokesman for the Archbishop at Bishopthorpe Palace has since been in touch with Pandora to say the Minster is in fact governed under statute by the Chapter of York Minster.

Since Dr Sentamu, 58, does not sit on the Chapter, they have asked me to point out he had nothing to do with the application.

Happy to oblige!

Whitehall faces office ban

The mandarins in Whitehall are the latest public sector workers to be hit by an office Facebook ban, and they're not happy.

Civil servants from every ministry have bombarded their closed site on the popular social networking website with outraged remarks.

"I know our wages are paid by the tax payer, but they should allow us some kind of leeway on sites like this," booms one. Another says: "It's rubbish. All you can do now is shop and online banking". At least they're honest about how they fill their working day.

Unlike the chancer who claims he needs Facebook, in pitch-perfect government jargon, for "Maintaining, developing, expanding communications/social interaction with colleagues to enhance the atmosphere in the office."

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