'Touchy-feely' Sentamu: the backlash begins

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The Independent Online

* Three months after bongo drums and bare-chested African dancers heralded Dr John Sentamu's arrival at York Minster, it's time for the backlash.

Following a lengthy whispering-campaign, opponents of Britain's first black archbishop have broken their public silence over his "touchy-feely" brand of Christianity.

Traditionalists within the Church have criticised a PR stunt in which Sentamu was photographed praying at a Sikh temple in Leeds.

The event, pictured in last week's Church Times, saw the headline-prone Archbishop of York, above, kneeling before the sacred scriptures at the temple. This went down like a lead balloon with conservative Anglicans, who dislike priests endorsing other faiths.

Several have now sent letters seeking an explanation. The Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, is said to be watching developments with interest.

"It would be very helpful to have a statement from the Archbishop on this," says Dr Chris Sugden, secretary of the traditionalist organisation Anglican Mainstream.

"The image, to someone who was casually flicking through the paper, is confusing. We'd really like to know what he was doing.

"He clearly did this out of respect, but it would help if we had some words to explain."

Sentamu won't back down, though. "The Archbishop visited a number of churches and prayed in them all," says a spokesman. "It was a community-building exercise."

* It may, I hazard, be some time before Sophie Dahl's hourglass figure adorns the walls of the National Portrait Gallery.

The likeable supermodel has left the NPG's 150th anniversary celebrations in some disarray after failing to attend its fundraising gala on Tuesday.

According to a press release circulated beforehand, Dahl was meant to be guest of honour at the glitzy, Dom Perignon-fuelled, bash. But come the night, she was nowhere to be seen.

Sources posit two theories behind her absence.

"Either Sophie's delivered a massive snub, or the NPG never actually invited her, but decided to hijack her name for publicity," I'm told."If it's the latter, they certainly succeeded: several papers predicted she'd attend, and yesterday's Standard even claimed to have seen her there."

Last night, the gallery denied any funny business, insisting: "Sophie was certainly someone we were expecting."

Dahl's spokesman, meanwhile, tells me she's overseas, and "as far as we know" never agreed to attend. They can't both be right.

* Antony Worrall Thompson recently invented the world's most unhealthy pudding: a Snickers pie containing 1,250 calories per slice.

Since this would defeat your average bull elephant, critics described the cuddly chef as a heart-attack waiting to happen.

Worrying, then, to discover Wozza was absent from duty this week, after being admitted to hospital.

Not only did this keep him out of the kitchen, it also prevented AWT from helping a cause close to his heart: smokers' rights.

On Monday, he was unable to act as compère at the pro-smoking lobby group Forest's annual awards.

Fortunately, a spokesman insists that Worrall Thompson is now on the mend, and back on the fags.

"He had a small cyst on his eye, nothing dangerous," I'm told.

"It's just been irritating him for a while now. The operation got put forward a day and he was keen to get it out of the way."

* The doo-doo that David Mills is currently swimming in doesn't just smell whiffy for his long-suffering wife, Tessa Jowell.

His brother, John Mills, is shortly to retire after serving as a Labour councillor in Camden for almost 30 years.

Until recent events, colleagues reckoned him a shoo-in for an honour, but now they aren't so sure.

"With a track record like John's, you've every right to expect a peerage," reckons one chum. "His New Labour credentials are impeccable. But recent events won't exactly help his cause, will they?"

Neither will they delight John's wife, Dame Barbara: she's the respectable and scrupulous former Director of Public Prosecutions.

* Seconds out! Time for another round of fisticuffs between Essex's foremost bruisers: Frank Warren and Kelvin MacKenzie.

The roly-poly duo fell out during the 1980s, when MacKenzie's Sun detailed Warren's extra-marital fling with a young blonde.

Now, revenge. In an interview with this week's Press Gazette, Warren will accuse "tough guy" MacKenzie of cowardice.

"I saw him once, at some do," he recalls. "I walked in and someone said, 'He's over there, Kelvin MacKenzie,' and boom he was gone, he ran out of the room.

"He gives it all that jack-the-lad, I'm-one-of- the-blokes shit, but he's not. He comes from a middle-class family and talks absolute bollocks. He strikes me as a bully, and like all bullies they come unstuck."

Over to you, Kelvin.