Pandora: Heaven knows I'm Middle Eastern now

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The Independent Online

Shake your robes! Three weeks ago, there came news that the heavy-eyebrowed balladeer Chris de Burgh will perform in Iran this summer with local pop group Arian making him the first Western artist to take to a stage in the country since the 1979 revolution.

The musician Morrissey is also in negotiations with the Iranian government to play a concert in the republic later this year. His camp would like their man to agree a date in Tehran this June, ideally with the internationally-acclaimed Arab pop singer Kazem al-Sahir, were he amenable.

Morrissey has called George Bush and Tony Blair "terrorists", and is less bland than the inoffensive de Burgh. The Mancunian's management awaits a formal response from Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, which is charged with suppressing "decadent" influences from the West. Western pop lyrics are banned.

Plans are, apparently, being drawn up for Morrissey, 48, to tour the Middle East this summer. "It's a major priority for us," said manager Merck Mercuriadis, when Pandora called his mobile and found him reclined in a dentist's chair, undergoing root canal work.

"One way or another we will tour the Middle East in terms of places like Jerusalem and Beirut. And we hope to play Iran."

Of al-Sahir, Mercuriadis added: "He's a hero for Morrissey and Morrissey admires his work."

Carole likes the gym so much, she bought it

What is former Downing Street danger woman Carole Caplin up to, since her patrons, the Blairs, fled for the hills? Word reaches Pandora that Carole, once "lifestyle" guru to Cherie, has acquired the Fitness First gym in Regent's Park, London.

"Everyone knew except the staff," says my source in the changing room, admiring himself in the mirror. "We presume we are all going to be kicked out. Fitness First seems to care more about a quick buck than preserving this area's gym."

Caplin, 46 tomorrow, has been using the Albany Street club for her personal workouts. One member felt the former model was being "quite scornful of other gym members using 'her' space".

Surely not! Carole asks me to talk to her agent, who swiftly vanishes. Fitness First did not return calls.

No news on whether the establishment's showering arrangements will be affected.

Free as a bird

Morgan Freeman will be 71 this year. Good to see he continues to age disgracefully. The actor hurtles through the clouds at 270mph in his twin-engine, seven-seater Cessna 414. He completed his flight training three years ago in Clarksdale, Mississippi, near his Tallahatchie County estate, and commutes the 1,800 miles to work in Hollywood with only God for company.

"I found an instructor, and now I'm, uh, high-flying," he tells Sky Arts. "I fly from home to Los Angeles at 21,000, 23,000 feet ... solo."

Freeman is billed to play Nelson Mandela this year in a big-screen adaptation of John Carlin's book The Human Factor, about how Madiba (Mandela) used the 1995 Rugby World Cup to seduce South Africans into one-nationhood.

Mum's the word

Exciting news for residents of Todmorden in West Yorkshire: Tony Blair's gurning visage may soon be pressed against their front door frosted glass. The former prime minister and his wife are digging out their tatty soapboxes and returning to the campaign trail. Cherie's step-mum Steph Booth, wife of her dad Tony Booth, is standing in May's local elections there. And Steph tells Pandora that the Blairs have pledged to canvass voters.

"Yes, they have agreed to help me," she says. "The current Lib Dem incumbent has stepped down so it's a free-for-all and I think I could well win it."

She adds: "Tony [Booth] is thrilled. He has been looking through his old stuff and he found a 'Vote Booth' sticker for when he helped Cherie stand." Sadly, Cherie's 1983 campaign to become the MP for North Thanet was unsuccessful. The rest, as they say ...

'Air-miles Nicky' suffers for the environment

Where is London's deputy mayor, Nicky Gavron? The multi-millionaire "Member for Heathrow Central" so-monikered, unkindly, for her hectic global travel schedule was away when I called her office on Friday.

I do hope Nicky is OK, since a rumour circulates that while she was staying in boiling Bali, at the UN's pre-Christmas climate change conference, she tumbled in the dark.

"The lights were off because they were energy saving ones," claims a friendly mole, "and Nicky slipped and fell. She has had physio."

Gavron, Gavron's office, and the City Hall press office all declined to respond to requests for comment.

Fingers crossed she'll be fit enough to keep any forthcoming foreign commitments. Cannes, anyone? New York?