The Navy turns a blind eye to a victory for commercialism

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Tomorrow, the Royal Navy will take part in a re-enactment of Lord Nelson's funeral on the Thames at Greenwich, as part of events to mark this year's 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar.

It's been billed as a day of patriotic flag-waving, to celebrate our proud nation's greatest naval victory.

So imagine my surprise to learn that the MoD's official press release about the event contains several plugs for a corporate sponsor. It's no ordinary sponsor, either: the firm paying for the big day is the Dubai-based airline, Emirates.

According to the MoD's own press release, Friday's event should now be billed as the "Emirates Thames Nelson Flotilla".

News of the move has gone down like a French battleship among naval types, who wonder what the great Lord Nelson would have made of an Arab airline flying its flag from the mast of HMS Victory.

Although the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Alan West, is taking part in the re-enactment - and no less than three Navy battleships are firing a salute during the event - the MoD is strangely reticent about the sponsorship deal.

"We are taking part, but this wasn't organised by us: the financial side was the organiser Sea Britain's responsibility," says a spokesman.

* It's been a roller-coaster 24 hours for fans of Sylvia Syms, the splendid TV actress known for her portrayals of Margaret Thatcher. At lunchtime yesterday, Radio 4 announced with sadness that this national treasure had passed away at the age of 71.

Thankfully, rumours of her death were much exaggerated - in fact she spent the day travelling to Scotland to play the late Queen Mother in a show for ITV.

"Earlier today, one of our announcers mistakenly said that the actress Sylvia Sims (sic), starring in today's Afternoon Play, was no longer alive," reads a sheepish BBC press release.

"The error was spotted and in the next break between programmes, an on-air apology was issued. We apologise for any unintentional upset that may have been caused."

A spokesman for Syms, pictured left in an episode of Heartbeat, tells me: "Sylvia doesn't know, but it was a cock-up. It's happened before, though. She's often confused with another Sylvia Syms, an American singer who died in 1992."

* By way of further fallout from last weekend's glut of celebrity weddings, there is tittle-tattle in fashion circles concerning the wedding dress worn by Sarah Buys, the new wife of Tom Parker-Bowles.

Since Buys is a fashion journalist at Harpers and Queen magazine, it has been suggested that she secured a cheeky discount on her Alexander McQueen frock which featured heavily in Monday's newspapers.

The designer strongly denies this - "why are you asking that?" - but for some reason refuses to scotch the rumours by saying exactly how much money did change hands.

Elsewhere, it has emerged that the church was filled with flowers provided by one Shawn Connolly. He is the favoured florist of Michael Fawcett, the unlovely party organiser retained by TP-B's stepfather, Prince Charles.

* Salman Rushdie and George Galloway are in the noisy opening stages of a row that - with a following breeze - could develop into one of the great media disputes of modern times.

At last month's Edinburgh TV Festival, the paid clashed during a special Question Time debate on TV and religion. Galloway claimed that Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses ought not to be adapted for television because it would offend Muslims.

Rushdie, who takes great exception to this view, has hit back in an interview with this week's Time Out. "He [Galloway] is preposterous, and I think that's what stops him from being dangerous," he notes.

"I'd never come across him before, and I didn't know what to expect. I was surprised to see how heartily I disliked him. I'm sure the feeling is mutual."

So am I!

* Despite his job as Sports Minister, Richard Caborn belongs to that breed of gentlemen occasionally accused of having eaten all the pies.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. For Westminster gossips tell me that he's spending this week on something of a fitness drive.

"Caborn walked the Pennine Way on Monday, and on Sunday is doing the Great North Run," I'm told. "Could this be a belated attempt to get rid of his spare tyre while sport is in the spotlight?"

Absolutely not, insists an aide to the great man, who say he's been pumping iron for several years.

"Actually, Richard is fitter than many men 20 years younger - and we struggle to keep up with him at times," he says, creepily.

pandora@independent.co.uk

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