The Vote for Europe: Sport and stage stars join race for Europe

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WHAT DO Michael Cashman, Dana and Gina Lollobrigida have in common? If the word "showbiz" springs to mind, you are only half right.

That may have been their past connection, but today the thing that binds them together is their desire to be members of the European Parliament.

They are among a startling array of dead-certs, wannabes, no-hopers and the frankly bizarre who are contesting the most important Euro elections to date. Anger over the United Kingdom's possible exclusion from or entry into a single currency and fear of the growing influence of the European Parliament have prompted more of the headstrong, frustrated and well-heeled than ever before to compete in the debate.

The list ranges from Lord Stockton (Conservative), the grandson of the former prime minister Harold Macmillan, to Paolo Rossi (Italian National Alliance), a member of one of Italy's World Cup winning football teams.

Michael Cashman, who played Colin in BBC1's soap EastEnders, is standing as a Labour candidate, the Italian film actress Gina Lollobrigida is representing the Italian Democrats, while the singer- actress Dana - real name Rosemary Scallon - is standing as an Independent candidate in Ireland.

Among the other stars of stage, screen and sporting arena to enter the race are the Finnish former world rally driving champion Ari Vatanen (right- of-centre KOK Party); Anne-Charlotte Pontabry, an actress who has performed topless for a television series; and Reinhold Messner, the former Everest climber who is standing for the Italian Greens.

In France, candidates include Olympic medallists and ski champions, in Belgium a former beauty queen is standing, in Italy there are actresses and sportsmen, while across Europe as a whole - where 626 seats will be contested on 10 June - philosophers, dancers and artists will join the fray.

Opinion is divided over whether the introduction of household names will encourage more voters to turn out or whether it will lead to a lowering of the calibre of MEPs.

Marcelle D'Argy Smith, a former editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, faced gibes about "10 orgasms a day in Brussels" from the tabloid press when she announced her candidature with the Pro-Euro Conservative splinter group, but she feels a wide variety of entrants - from whatever quarter - will be good for Europe.

"They want to trivialise you but candidates cannot be trivial if they want to stand seriously," she said. "You have to go on the hustings and answer questions and know about the issues. Sure, I know what the jargon means - and there is only one way to say `convergence' - but it is people like me who will cut through it.

"I have been on platforms with people who say they have a lot of experience to offer. Experience is wonderful, but so is fresh blood. And sometimes that can sweep through like a breath of fresh air."