Pandora: Lily Allen becomes voice of pop on literary panel

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The Independent Online

Lily Allen's involvement with London's booky types has so far been confined to swigging drinks in Soho's Groucho Club, but - strange as it might sound - she's actually about to become an influential player on the capital's literary scene.

For Allen was yesterday announced as a judge on the panel of the Orange Broadband Prize For Fiction, the prestigious literary award for female authors which has in the past been awarded to novelists such as Zadie Smith and Lionel Shriver.

Although the gobby poptress is not usually noted for literary prowess, she was hand picked to judge the award by its co-founder, the award-winning author Kate Mosse.

"We try and have a range of different ages among the judges and we wanted a panel that was sparky and exciting," explains Mosse. "Lily is someone who has been successful in a different field to writing and that's what we are looking for, someone with no preconceptions who can play a big part in getting people reading. I'm absolutely thrilled she's able to do it."

Despite Mosse's enthusiasm, Allen's presence on the panel, alongside novelist Philippa Gregory and agony aunt Bel Mooney, is likely to provoke catty accusations of dumbing down among literary circles, but a spokesman for Allen insists she won't be out of her depth.

"Lily loves to read," he tells me. "In fact she reads rather a lot."

New show is proving a hustle for Bussell

The twinkle-toed ballerina Darcey Bussell has just kicked off her new show Viva La Diva alongside Welsh opera star Katherine Jenkins, so I do hope she's going to last the distance. The show had its opening night on Monday at London's Hammersmith Apollo, but already the 38-year-old is feeling the strain.

"I just can't take it anymore," confessed a still-panting Bussell at the after-show party. "I have to stock my body up with all sorts of supplements. I need energy from somewhere and I take all this vitamin C to keep it all working. It's so tricky. One minute it's jazz, then it's tap, then back to pointe, then sexy chair routines. It's all new for me."

Still, Bussell can take heart from her performance. Her former dance partner Carlos Acosta, who was in the audience, told me she had reduced him to a blubbing wreck.

"She was just so elegant, beautiful," he gushed. "She is timeless. She did us all proud."

The dyes don't work

The was some collective pint-dropping when the former Verve frontman, Richard Ashcroft, was spotted at Led Zeppelin's reunion concert at the 02 Arena on Monday.

The gloomy singer, who was among a celebrity-packed throng which included Naomi Campbell and Sir Mick Jagger, pitched up at the gig shorn of his trademark dark locks and sporting a new, peroxide-dyed croped barnet.

"I wouldn't describe it as a strong look," reports a witness. "Richard is a pasty-faced so-and-so, which meant he looked a bit like death warmed up."

Ashcroft, whose mother was a hairdresser, has form for dodgy coiffures. He once told an interviewer that, on one occasion in his youth, he accidentally dyed his glossy mane blue.

Kinky Colin

Colin Firth will appear next year in a big-screen adaptation of the Abba musical, Mamma Mia!

If nothing else, the film looks likely to finally cast off his Stateside image as a "stiff Brit".

"I am no stranger to Spandex and Lycra," the 47-year-old told me at the premiere of the new St Trinian's movie, in which he co-stars with Rupert Everett and Russell Brand. "It was actually quite nice to get out of a suit for a while, actually, and let it all go."

Dodgy outfits aside, the Abba singalong is a tough role on two fronts. Firth's part (he plays nerdy banker Harry Bright) also requires him to sing.

"Whether I will regret that I don't know," he added. "There were plenty of notes I can't reach."

Sir Cliff's sparkling show

All aboard! Once again, Sir Cliff Richard has leapt on to the gravy train with a dubious new endorsement. Hot on the heels the "Whiff of Cliff" brand of perfumes launched three years ago, the Peter Pan of Pop has put his squeaky-clean name to a range of jewellery. His personal website now offers necklaces and drop earrings which have apparently been inspired by the "Midnight diamonds" phrase from Cliff's 1975 hit, "Miss You Nights".

According to the bumf: "Each piece of jewellery comes in an elegant blue presentation jewellery box, lined with velvet and specially signed with Cliff's signature on top."

In fairness, not all of Cliff's products are for die-hards only. His Vida Nova rose has been lauded by both his knicker-flinging fanbase and wine buffs alike.

Email pandora@independent.co.uk

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