Pandora: Rachel: Strictly amateur

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The Independent Online

Rachel Stevens has rejected claims that her time as a teeny-bopping pop star will give her an edge in this Saturday's Strictly Come Dancing final.

Since Stevens will have attended dance classes during her performing days with S Club 7, some critics have suggested this has given her an unfair advantage in the competition.

"Absolutely not, I've never trained to do this before and if anything it was more difficult for me because of people's expectations," she tells me.

"Sure, I've performed on stage before but that's totally different from ballroom dancing. I had to master all the technicalities like learning to spin, so we were all on a level playing field."

Stevens, who was promoting Virgin Media's 50MB broadband service, wouldn't be drawn on Saturday's voting fiasco. Which is particularly diplomatic, since the contestant who looked set to miss out on that occasion, Tom Chambers, has now leap-frogged her as the favourite for the final.

"I don't really want to go into it," she insists. "The BBC had to make a decision and I am just chuffed that I'm now in the final."

BBC won't reveal cost of US coverage

For all the talk from Mark Thompson of having an "open" BBC, the corporation are strangely reluctant to discuss the inner workings of its news operation when it falls under the spotlight.

At the climax of Barack Obama's successful march to the White House in November, the Corporation had 175 staff based in and around the United States reporting on the election.

Some of its big names, such as David Dimbleby, were flown out to Washington just to be there to cover the results on election night.

The resources being thrown at its coverage was inevitably questioned by MPs and media commentators alike. Was it a sensible use of license payers' money? With that in mind, the campaigning website thelatest.com made a formal request to see how much of our money the BBC spent, using the Freedom of Information Act.

Sadly, the Corporation has refused to play ball. In a response yesterday, it claimed "the BBC must be able to resist the pressure directed at the editorial decisions made on resource allocation".

I suggest their tormentors lodge an appeal. Only two months ago, several FOI requests made by this newspaper successfully revealed that the Corporation spent at least £60,000 of licence fee-payers' money on chapagne each year and another £250,000 on Christmas parties.

Button's undone in F1 panto

The first celebrity Christmas card of the season flutters its way down on to Pandora's doormat. It's from Jenson Button, the glossy-maned speedster whose employers, Honda, recently dropped the bombshell that they were quitting Formula One.

In years gone by, Button's cards have usually contained a motor racing theme. This year, however, he has opted for a pastel-coloured painting of a snowman next to a giant pink Christmas stocking, adorned with the words: "Designed by Mollie, my beautiful little niece aged eight."

As the former golden boy of Formula One contemplates life without a ride in 2009, it's cheering to know he cherishes the important things in life.

Who's joined the club now?

Further to my story yesterday that Sex And The City siren Kim Cattrall has joined the Arts Club in London's Dover Street, news of another exciting celebrity addition to its ranks.

Roger Daltrey, former hell-raiser and lead singer of The Who, has also recently taken up club membership.

Already he's made himself popular with his fellow Arts lovers. Daltrey generously donated a dozen tickets to the club for his band's concert on Monday night at the 02.

Pickles does not go with cheese

Eric Pickles was recently singled out by a Sunday newspaper as one of a several senior Tories David Cameron was beginning to consider, shall we say, rather too well-lunched for front-bench politics. It was an uncharitable suggestion, since the shadow Communities Secretary has lost 3st over the past few months. Speaking at the Tory leader's drinks do on Monday, Pickles said he'd shed the flab "by giving up cheese, chips, second helpings and fun".

First terrier has a new play mate

George W Bush's annual Christmas video featuring his pet dog Barney is up on the White House website. Last year, the light-hearted message included an appearance by Tony Blair in discussion with Barney. Unsurpris- ingly, there are no such japes with Gordon Brown this year. That embarrassment falls squarely on the shoulders of Olympic swimming sensation Michael Phelps.

pandora@independent.co.uk

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