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Sharon Stone's lost appearance

AND NOW, the answer to the question the world is asking: What was Sharon Stone like in high school? Pretty much a nerd, and not all that pretty, she would have you believe.

''When I was 15,'' Ms Stone said, ''I went to college half a day while I went to high school, and I tutored algebra to other kids in my high school.''

"I was like, you know, that weird girl,'' the actress continued. ''I cannot believe I did not know that I was a pretty girl. I was so insecure and so intimidated and so introverted.''

Nice try, Sharon.

A college friend of Flat Earth's was Miss Pennsylvania 1976 (and a Miss America semi-finalist). Among the other contestants back then, among (how can we put this tactfully?) the losers, was an ambitious teenager wearing a ''Miss Crawford County'' sash. That 17-year-old blonde from ''a hick town'' near the Ohio border? Miss Sharon Stone.

Although she didn't become Miss Pennsylvania, Sharon, now 37, did pretty well later in life and could win the best actress Oscar for her role in Casino. She doesn't get back to Saegertown, Crawford County, much - and certainly not for a high school reunion with her former algebra pupils. ''I don't get to be one of the gang at an event like that,'' she has lamented. ''I feel like an ostrich in a trailer park.''

And our friend Marie, the contest winner? She owns a restaurant and delicatessen in New Jersey and is known locally as ''the Deli Queen''. She's happy for Sharon. ''Here's a girl who went after her dream. I admire people like that.'' Jealous? ''Not in a million years,'' says Marie. ''She can be the Queen of Hollywood; I'll take being the Deli Queen any day.''

Shedding stones

WHEN Jacques Chirac announced the end of French nuclear testing in the Pacific, a huge weight was lifted from the shoulders of King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV of Tonga and his people. Further weight is now being lifted from their hips and thighs.

The King, who once reputedly weighed 440lb, discovered the benefits of regular exercise and lower-calorie foods a few years back, and has lost 154lb. So, like all monarchs, he wants his 100,000 subjects to follow his example. TT the Fourth sponsored a national weight-loss competition that began last August. By the time it ended, and the grand prize - a holiday in New Zealand - was awarded, 400 people were still adhering to the regime, power-walking and doing aerobics workouts.

Another TT, Tavita Tu'akoi, was the lucky winner. He lost 55lb after giving up the fatty mutton, corned beef and sweets so dear (and so dangerous) to the islanders' hearts.

Spurning Bridges

ANYONE still in doubt that the Republican presidential candidates in the US are an out-of-touch and unromantic lot need look no further than their campaigning before the recent Iowa caucuses.

While thundering their policies and boasting of their brilliance throughout the farm state, the candidates all managed to avoid Winterset. None of the nine Republicans appeared to know that tens of thousands of visitors now descend on the town of 4,300 souls, and the rolling countryside around it, in search of covered bridges, a shy farm wife, a been-there-done-that photographer in a pickup truck, and lost love. Messrs Dole, Buchanan, Forbes and company may have studied their briefing papers, but they seem not to have read The Bridges of Madison County.

Bob Dole's wife, Elizabeth, did turn up once, though, and visited Winterset's No 1 non-fictional attraction: the little white house where Marion Morrison was born 89 years ago. Who? John Wayne, a man who was known for his conservative views.

In the real-life Madison County, Democrats now outnumber Republicans, so Robert James Waller's best-selling novel of adulterous love is set deep in Bill Clinton territory.