Joan Collins fights off ferrets for her country

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The Independent Online

Red carpets rather than pantomime cows are the normal style of greeting when Joan Collins visits Leicester Square but a gentle bit of bovine hugging was called for yesterday when the actress took a starring role in a bizarre government-led initiative to encourage tourists to visit the countryside.

Red carpets rather than pantomime cows are the normal style of greeting when Joan Collins visits Leicester Square but a gentle bit of bovine hugging was called for yesterday when the actress took a starring role in a bizarre government-led initiative to encourage tourists to visit the countryside.

The unlikely moment came when Ms Collins launched Your Countryside, You're Welcome Week in the West End of London. Standing amid a crowd of ferrets, border collies and scarecrows on stilts, she was forced to quell rumours that she would soon be taking part in a wellie-throwing competition.

Ms Collins, dressed in leather trousers, snakeskin boots and a stetson, tried to dazzle the crowd with misty tales of the outdoors. "I can remember every Sunday getting into my father's car and going to the countryside from the very beginning of my life. I grew to really love it," she said. "I'm here today to support the British countryside and I wish that people would go to it more."

Richard Burge, the Countryside Alliance's chief executive, watched the Dynasty star's photocall with some exasperation. He said: "If it had been up to us, we would maybe have found a celebrity who was more deeply associated with an event like this."

But Alun Michael, the Rural Affairs minister, was thrilled at the idea of having Joan Collins as a countryside mascot.

"There is something for everyone in the countryside, even for those who just want to go and see a magnificent old house, and Joan Collins helps get that message across," Mr Michael said.

The campaign, launched by the Government with organisations including the Countryside Alliance and the National Farmers' Union, held a mock village fete for the London crowd. But while Ms Collins lured a modest gathering, the ferret racing drew the biggest crowd.

Some were not convinced. Alisa Tammen, an American tourist, looked baffled. "What is she supposed to be representing? I don't understand. They should have got Russell Crowe to do this if they wanted to lure me to the countryside," said Ms Tammen, 28, a sales executive from Oregon.

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