Russia's biggest pop diva sued over slap attack on assistant

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The Independent Online

A flamboyant Russian pop star famous for his outrageous outfits and tacky chart-topping hits has fled to Israel after allegedly assaulting a female assistant at a concert rehearsal because he was unhappy with the lighting on stage.

Philipp Kirkorov, 43, has been a household name in Russia since the early 1990s, known for his camp style, flamboyant outfits, and cheesy melodies, often lip-synched at his concerts. A favourite of television variety shows, and frequently playing to packed halls of middle-aged women, he also sang Russia's entry at the 1995 Eurovision Song Contest.

But it seems that this time the star already infamous for diva-like behaviour and emotional outbursts, went too far. The assistant, Marina Yablokova, said Kirkorov was unhappy about the lighting during a rehearsal for Russia's annual Golden Gramophone song contest this week, and slapped her face, knocking her to the ground. He then dragged her along the floor by the hair, and kicked her, she said.

Ms Yablokova appeared on television showing a large bruise on her thigh, which she says was caused by the attack. She has promised to sue the star, and there is also the possibility of criminal proceedings against him.

Aides to Kirkorov first denied the attack and accused Ms Yablokova of fabricating it, but on Wednesday it transpired that he had fled to Israel for tests in a psychiatric hospital. He was to appear on Russian television last night to make a public apology to Ms Yablokova, and has already released a contrite statement on his personal website.

"Unfortunately, I am forced to talk about something I could not admit to myself," said the statement. "I must be seriously ill. Twice a year I have serious attacks, when I do not remember or understand anything that I do."

He admitted that talk of illness might sound unconvincing, but said he was now seeking treatment. "I do not know how to live any more," he wrote. The singer returned to Moscow early yesterday, after doctors apparently found little wrong with his mental health.

The Russian tabloid press has been talking about little else since the incident with B-list celebrities lining up to give their opinion, and one website even created a computer-generated reconstruction of exactly how the attack happened. Most of the celebrity voices have condemned Kirkorov and said he should face justice for the attack, although there have been a few words of support.

Anastasia Volochkova, the ballerina famously fired from the Bolshoi Theatre for being too fat, and who has developed a career as a minor television personality, said she could understand Kirkorov's reaction. She said that Ms Yablokova had "provoked Philipp in the most ugly way", and that she too had faced similarly rude people. "There have been so many times when I've wanted to slap this kind of person in the face," she said. "I have kept control, but it's so hard."

Kirkorov's previous form for verbal and physical outbursts, includes one extraordinary incident at a press conference in the southern city of Krasnodar, after a female reporter asked him why so many of his songs were remakes of Western hits and she suffered the full brunt of his anger. "I'm sick of your pink top and your tits," he said, and demanded she leave the room. When she protested, he swore at her and mocked her southern Russian accent; afterwards, she claimed that his bodyguards confiscated and destroyed her recorder.

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