Pandora: Fern's new stay-slim shocker

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The Independent Online

The row over Fern Britton's dramatic weight loss just keeps on rumbling. Yesterday the This Morning presenter was accused of deliberately misleading the public when a Sunday newspaper revealed that, despite repeated denials, she had undergone gastric banding back in 2006.

Matters won't be helped by the arrival of the women's fortnightly Yours magazine. The mag, which hit the shelves yesterday, carries an item featuring Britton headlined, "Stay-slim secrets of the stars revealed!"

"Husband Phil Vickery can take his share of the credit for changing Fern's eating habits and preparing healthy meals with plenty of fresh fruit and veg instead of her favourite puds," it reads. "She keeps in trim by cycling and walking the dog, and is in training for her third charity bike ride next year."

Time to cut down on the porkie pies too, methinks.

New Edinburgh festival is no laughing matter

The Edinburgh Festival may still be the best part of two months away, but already it is shaping up to be a heated affair.

A row has erupted over a decision by the city's "big four" Fringe venues, the Assembly Rooms, Gilded Balloon, Pleasance and Underbelly, to launch a breakaway event entitled the Edinburgh Comedy Festival.

Performers are unhappy that they weren't informed they would be part of a new event, and there are fears that smaller venues will be eclipsed as a result.

Among the opponents to the plan is Stewart Lee, co-creator of Jerry Springer: The Opera, who has been performing at the Fringe for 22 years.

"These people are basically landlords. They've taken bookings from people but didn't tell them they were going to be part of a new festival," he says. "A lot of these people won't be happy. It's not in the spirit of the thing."

Joining Lee in the dispute is fellow Edinburgh veteran Andre Vincent, who has decided not to perform this year in protest.

"It's really mean-spirited," he insists. "There are over 50 other venues that just won't get a look-in."

Pleasance director Anthony Alderson, one of the architects of the new festival, is unapologetic, and insists the move vital in attracting new funding.

"The whole point of the Fringe is it's an open market. I couldn't be a bigger supporter, but we need to find commercial partners to keep us going.

"There's this obsession in the UK that the arts need to remain unfunded to survive."

Fry leaves star-struck Chris weak at the knees

Chris Martin could be forgiven for being star-struck around some of his wife Gwyneth Paltrow's A-list chums.

But in keeping with his somewhat geeky public image, the Coldplay singer claims the only man to have made his knees wobble thus far is British brainbox Stephen Fry.

"I went through a period of thinking, 'Oh, I won't say anything to Stephen Fry if I bump into him because he doesn't want to hear it', but then I thought, 'Well actually, that's nonsense'," he says. "I got to meet him the other day and I was very star-struck around him but it made me happy to say, 'I think you're great and thanks for all the pleasure you've given me'."

On the face of it, Martin, who makes his comments in an upcoming interview on Virgin radio, has much in common with Fry. Both hail from public school, and both are cricketing aficionados.

Nothing to Bragg about at BBC

There was indignity for the singer Billy Bragg yesterday when he was rudely cut off by the button-pushers at the BBC.

The leftie crooner phoned in to the Radio 4 programme You And Yours, which was asking listeners the question: "Is our tax system good value for money?"

After the presenter Peter White excitedly announced Bragg was on the line ("yes, that Billy Bragg"), the audience was instead treated to another caller offering his two-penn'orth about public services, who most certainly wasn't Billy Bragg.

After a barrage of calls from a confused audience was made to the station, an embarrassed White was promptly forced to admit the cock-up, by which time an obviously fed-up Bragg had hung up.

Wild Oats

It's two years since Mark Oaten's career went into a spectacular nosedive after an embarrassing exposé involving a rent boy, but the Lib Dem MP is still thin-skinned about the scandal.

A recent report on the website suggesting that Oaten was ready to quit his Winchester seat before the next election prompted more than 200 often X-rated comments at Oaten's expense.

The former leadership contender. who clearly has time on his hands, has posted an angry reply:

"Yes I screwed up, but if only you knew how wrong all the blogs and internet interpretation was," he writes. "But you all hate me so much that there is little point trying to explain. You will just add more hurtful remarks."