A well-meaning letter to the well-connected

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The Countess of Wessex has had one. Trevor McDonald and Sir Richard Branson have also found it on their doormats. It is the well-meaning chain letter to the well-connected that simply will not go away.

The missive, which asks recipients for sums ranging from £1 to £20, has been circulating for 10 years in media, business and City circles.

Unlike the chain letters of teenage years, which often threatened a sticky end to those who failed to send it on, this is a heartfelt but misguided attempt to raise funds for the Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital in London. The list of those sent the plea to help raise £1.5m after the hospital was forced to close four wards due to lack of funds reads like a Who's Who of Britain's glitterati, including Elton John, the singer, and Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula 1 boss. Organisations that have received the letter in the past year alone include the BBC, Condé Nast, Penguin, Rolls Royce and Sotheby's.

But amid all this high-flying philanthropy there are problems. Great Ormond has not had to close any wards ­ even if it had, it would be barred from fundraising for NHS "core" activities ­ and, above all, it is desperate for the letters to end.

"This letter causes far more trouble than it is worth for all concerned. It mutates like a flu virus and, no matter what we try, it is impossible to stop," said Stephen Cox, the hospital's communications director, yesterday. "We appreciate the money, but it is the antithesis of modern fundraising. We cannot afford to acknowledge a £1 donation, it costs the sender much more to send on and it is based on a false premise."

Rather like a decade-long game of Chinese Whispers, the letter has evolved and distorted in several directions since it was started in 1991 by an anonymous, but apparently genuine, fundraiser. Yet early versions asked recipients to send money to the wrong address. It coincided with the hospital's own spectacularly successful Wishing Well appeal, which raised £54m.

Great Ormond Street has taken out adverts in the regional press to try to stamp out the letter. Mr Cox said: "The number of replies we get tends to ebb and flow but it never finally goes away. Really, the best thing people can do when they get the letter is to tear it up." However, it is believed up to £250,000 may have been raised because of it.

One of the latest versions doing the rounds in media circles ­ and claiming to be responding to a request by the Millennium Commission ­ has been sent to the chatshow host Clive Anderson and television presenter Angus Deayton. As a recent recipient admitted: "By sending the letter on you can show the recipients just how well-connected you are."