Diary

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The Independent Online
Even for a master of the art of public relations, this assignment is a toughie. The government of Nigeria is looking for a PR company that will help improve its image in Britain, and advise on the transition to democracy. And not any old PR company. The Nigerian High Commissioner has approached Sir Tim Bell, former adviser to Margaret Thatcher and the man famously responsible for the David Mellor and family photocall.

A photocall that would present General Sani Abacha and his military junta in a favourable light was too daunting a prospect even for a man of Sir Tim's talents. He tells me that his agency, Lowe Bell, has turned down the High Commissioner's request. "We advise on general elections all over the place, but we felt unable to represent the Nigerian government," he said. An outbreak of scruples in public relations, or a recognition that some clients have too big an image problem? I leave you to judge.

David Hockney's best piece of performance art for years - his hour-long press conference at the Royal Academy where he held up a reproduction of an 18th-century painting of a semi-naked child and dared Scotland Yard to come and arrest him - will have a follow-up performance, I gather.

Hockney's anger over the arrests of Julia Somerville and Jeremy Dixon for taking photographs of her daughter naked in the bath has provoked the increasingly shy, increasingly reclusive and increasingly deaf artist to ask for a public platform to challenge Parliament, Scotland Yard and Boots the Chemist. He intends to give a public lecture at the Royal Academy in the new year calling on Parliament to change the laws covering photography. It will be one of the first times that the Royal Academy has taken a political stand on art since Sir Joshua Reynolds was asked to advise Parliament about pictures in the 18th century.

It is unlikely though that Hockney would want a similar role for himself. He remains attached to life in the Hollywood hills, and so hates the bustle of London that when flying to see his 95-year-old mum in Bridlington, he flies from LA to Amsterdam and then back to Humberside airport to avoid having to set foot in the metropolis or its airports.

I worry that I am a jinx on the English National Opera. A dozen or so years ago I attended a performance of Rigoletto in which the chap playing the title role lost his voice mid-way and an Italian baritone was found who stood on the stage singing the role in Italian while the rest of the cast acted and sang around him in English. Surreal stuff.

But not as surreal as last Friday night when Louise Winter, playing Carmen in Jonathan Miller's ENO production, lost her voice after the second act and a former Carmen, Sally Burgess, was spied in the audience and persuaded to come on stage and sing the part. This she did, in French - she has just played the part at the Met in New York, while Miss Winter remained on stage to provide the action, and mime to English words that weren't being sung. It reminded me of a vintage Top Of The Pops.

A shamefully unaesthetic and mercenary side of me wondered what it takes to cajole an off-duty diva on a night out with hubby, and in casual clothes, to come on stage for the last act and take part in a production she has never seen in front of 2,600 people. A world tour with Pavarotti? A contract to sing at the next royal wedding? pounds 500? I'm happy to say that the latter at least is more or less what Miss Burgess did get, a full performance fee for her one act of bravery. And well deserved, too.

My shoes are scuffed, my toes are bruised; I have a nosebleed and I am off to the dry cleaners. Fellow Britpop admirers will recognise me as an Oasis fan.

I attended the world's largest indoor concert, standing with 19,000 or so others in the arena at Earl's Court. More accurately, I stood; the other 18,999 pogoed. This means that the entire audience jumps up and down on the spot, in most cases while holding pints of beer. The origin of this new listening aid is unclear; but it does demand great skills of balance, and some balletic prowess. Those attending Oasis gigs later this month should be warned that Britpop fans do not possess this agility. And attending a pop concert now is only slightly less dangerous than when Rolling Stones gigs were patrolled by the Hell's Angels.

If you can't join them, upstage them. Norman Lamont will not have much chance of standing in the front row to listen to the Queen's Speech tomorrow, so he has decided to make regal-sounding pronouncements himself. He will launch his book, Sovereign Britain, a titillating title which is actually a collection of speeches and articles with a Union Flag design on the front. To imagine that it might overshadow the other news event of the day takes, shall we say, admirable self confidence.

Here is a question for all GCSE and A-level students. What is a Honeywagon? This imagination-boggling vehicle was used on the set of the new James Bond film, Goldeneye. A BBC schools programme looks at the making of the Bond film, and an appendix in the study guide lists the facilities needed for the production unit. Among these is "1 x Honeywagon ready on location at 06.30". Is this where Pierce Brosnan and his female co-stars get to know each other before a day's shooting, or is it perhaps a leftover prop from the last Winnie The Pooh film? Well, in a way. It is, says United International Pictures, the portable loo. It's good to know that even the mobile toilet staff on the set are infected by the Bond glamour ethos.

Eric Clapton was in melancholic mood as he received the special merit award at the Q magazine awards last week. He arrived hotfoot from receiving his OBE from the Queen to find he had won one of the top rock prizes.

But as he received it, he mused, stony-faced, about magazines in general. "I don't like reading magazines," he affirmed in an angst-ridden mumble. "They make me feel `less than', make me feel I have to compete." If a man who had just come from Buckingham Palace and whose fans nickname him God has an inferiority complex, what hope is there for the rest of us?

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