Revealed: the fading glory of Ofili's elephant dung paintings

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The Independent Online

At the weekend, Tate director Nicholas Serota admitted he was wrong to buy the installation with cash from a charitable fund. He'd already faced criticism because Ofili is one of the Tate's trustees.

Now I learn that the work is being so badly damaged by the conditions in which it's kept at the Tate that officials have been forced to consider removing it from public view for several years.

The shock admission is contained in a leaked report written by the gallery's Conservator, Natasha Duff. She says The Upper Room, partly made from elephant dung, is being damaged by visitors disobeying badly-sited "do not touch" signs.

More worryingly, some of the 13 paintings that make up the work are fading, because light levels in the room are a staggering five times higher than the recommended maximum.

"Damage is likely to increase in proportion with light intensity and duration of exposure," reads her report. "Can we reduce light intensity, by using lower wattage bulbs, or by ensuring the works are kept off display for several years before being reinstalled?"

* The likes of Nelson Mandela, Michael Jackson, and Kermit the Frog quite rightly consider an invitation to speak at the Oxford Union to be a signal honour.

Lady Isabella Hervey isn't so easily pleased, though. Last week, she was unexpectedly absent from a debate on the motion: "this house laments Britain's celebrity obsession".

The reality TV star had been invited to speak for the opposition, alongside one of the great aesthetes of modern times, Peter York.

But on big the day, she was nowehere to be seen, leaving York to be partnered by a female student. They narrowly lost.

"We were approached about three months ago, but they never replied to an e-mail asking some questions, and never confirmed," explains Hervey's manager.

"They did phone on the day, but by then Isabella had another commitment, filming for Channel Four."

The Union considers this a great tragedy. "Isabella might have made all the difference," they say.

* It's refreshing to learn that Renée Zellweger can occasionally be found in the sort of 'umble surroundings where, on a crisp November day, one might encounter her famous alter ego, Bridget Jones.

On Saturday, the Hollywood superstar, right, turned up unannounced at the Dulwich Picture Gallery to view an exhibition of Beatrix Potter memorabilia. She was apparently researching for her role in Mrs Potter, a biopic of the famous children's author that begins shooting in the UK early next year.

"Yes, Renée popped in on Saturday," says a spokesman for the gallery. "In fact, she spent more than £200 in our gift shop on catalogues, some books, some Beatrix Potter china, and a calendar."

"We originally had no idea it was her. But then the young shop assistant asked if she was Renée Zellweger's sister, and she twinkled back, 'I am a closer relation than that!'"

* Despite last week's hoo-hah over the Terror Bill, Tony Blair can't always persuade Her Majesty's Constabulary to step in with assistance during his PR campaigns.

North Wales police are pressing ahead with an investigation into an episode - included in the manuscript of former Downing Street spin-doctor Lance Price's memoirs - in which our PM referred to the "fucking Welsh."

Ignoring advice from the CPS, Chief Constable Richard Brunstrom has instructed officers to see if Blair's comment makes him guilty of "incitement" under the Public Order Act.

Price has now been instructed to give evidence. "I am surprised that the police are continuing to spend public money on this investigation, but will co-operate with them as best I can," he says.

* There is sadness for Geri Halliwell. Along with three other former Spice Girls (Scary, Sporty, and Baby) she's been dropped from next year's Debrett's People of Today, on the grounds that she's no longer famous enough.

According to the publisher, only one member of the girl band, Victoria Beckham, still merits a place in the annual guide to influential people.

"Like it or not, Posh is still in the public eye," says a spokesman. "The other Spice Girls had modest solo careers, but went downhill since the band split. One of the criteria for inclusion in People of Today is that you maintain a certain level of achievement; they simply haven't."

It's the end of an era. Other celebrities to get the chop include Kevin Keegan, and the cheerfully monochrome triple-jumper, Jonathan Edwards.

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