Wanted: concert audience to cheer UN's 60th birthday

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In exactly one week's time, our nation's most famous orchestra is scheduled to perform a special one-off concert at the Royal Albert Hall to celebrate the 60th birthday of the United Nations.

The fundraising event has been two years in the making, is officially endorsed by Annan, above, and was promoted by a marketing campaign that reached a million people. But with D-Day approaching, organisers are facing a disaster.

Under a quarter of the 4,000 tickets have been sold, and no company has yet come forward with sponsorship. At present, it won't raise a penny in funds.

According to Peter Luff, the man behind the event, one thing's to blame: the PR problems that hit Annan's regime during the oil-for-food scandal.

"To be honest, we'd have done much better if the UN's name hadn't been on this," says Luff, who organised the famous Secret Policeman's Ball fundraisers for Amnesty.

"The sense of crisis about the UN has stopped people buying tickets. It's very sad. We contacted all 50 of the UN's official 'compact companies,' who have a track record of supporting its events, but none helped."

A few weeks back, a "world music" concert in aid of the UN anniversary was canned. Surely the London Philharmonic is too big to go the same way?

* When Michael Jackson goes shopping, purveyors of downmarket tat shout: "Bingo!"

Not that Wacko Jacko doesn't also enjoy splashing out on occasional items of cultural value, you understand.

During his current visit to London, the fallen superstar hopes to visit the city's largest independent bookstore, Foyles.

Staff there were instructed to close their doors to the public on Tuesday morning so Jackson could browse in peace. But not all went according to plan.

"We shut the shop but he didn't show up," I am told. "Then he called and asked for it to be closed for him in the evening. But he didn't show then, either.

"We'd have been a bit sceptical but he visited last year and spent a fortune on books about film and drama. He must have a huge library."

Yesterday, Christopher Foyle, the shop's chairman, said an alternative (but for now secret) shopping trip has now been arranged.

"It's quite true, and we hope he will come shopping here soon."

* Not only is Hugh Grant's love-in with Jemima Khan most certainly "back on", there is fresh evidence that they're starting to regard each other as intellectual soulmates.

On Tuesday, the couple were spotted sneaking into the audience of a public debate at the Royal Geographic Society.

"It's not the first time we've seen them there," I'm told. "They didn't contribute to the debate as such, but seemed to listen attentively, despite whispering to each other throughout.

"Although they kept a low profile, I did notice them holding hands. They applauded politely when Peter Oborne spoke, but in the end cast their vote for the opposite side, in favour of the motion."

The motion Grant supported was: "It's the journalists, not the politicians, who have fouled our political culture." Pandora couldn't disagree with him more.

* Friends of the modish actor James Nesbitt recently briefed newspapers that he'd rather undergo root canal surgery without anaesthetic than appear in yet another Yellow Pages advert.

The man himself - currently starring in the West End play Shoot the Crow - plays a different tune.

"Lots of actors are snobby about this sort of thing, but I've only ever chosen adverts with scripts I think are good artistically," he said. "Besides which, Yellow Pages pay good money, and I've got a family to feed."

Underlining his artistic credibility, Nesbitt adds that he's in talks with the director Michael Winterbottom to star in a new musical film. "What I'd like to do most is a Sinatra musical. I know it's cheesy, but I love it."

* The Tatler editor Geordie Greig refuses to confirm or deny reports that he's being groomed to succeed Boris Johnson at The Spectator.

Either way, there is disquiet at the mooted appointment in one influential corner of the establishment: Britain's public schools. On Tuesday, dozens of their stern headmasters joined Greig at the launch of the Tatler's Schools Guide.

"We were all given a copy of his latest magazine, and were highly amused by a front page headline," reports one guest. "It reads: 'The lust list - who really fancies who'. As any fool knows, that's bad English. Strictly speaking, the correct phrase is: 'Who really fancies whom, question mark."

The "howler" inspired plenty of highbrow heckling. Reports a witness: "Greig ought to brush up on his Queen's, but perhaps the headmasters could get a life, too."

pandora@independent.co.uk

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