England's all-singing, all-dancing, celebrity bid for the World Cup

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Three white Royal Squadron helicopters touched down one by one on the lush turf yesterday morning, bringing representatives of an important foreign power to be greeted by the ambassador and shown around a much-loved, if faded, relic of empire.

Three white Royal Squadron helicopters touched down one by one on the lush turf yesterday morning, bringing representatives of an important foreign power to be greeted by the ambassador and shown around a much-loved, if faded, relic of empire.

During the day, the delegation was entertained by ministers of state and the future king, and then regaled with old tales of glory by some of the nation's greatest heroes. Even a balladeer from a former vassal country was wheeled out to round off the festivities.

And it was all about football.

The £10m England bid to stage the 2006 World Cup moved into top gear as the six-man Fifa inspection team came calling to assess our facilities. No expense or diplomatic nicety was too much trouble.

Before it leaves on Tuesday, the full might of government, monarchy and celebrity fans will have been deployed in the cause of "Welcoming the world of football to the home of football", as one promotional slogan has it.

Sir Geoff Hurst, England's hat-trick hero from the last time the competition graced these shores, was in no doubt about what was at stake. Be-suited and button-holed and flaunting his credentials as a successful businessman for the past 20 years, he called winning the bid, "the biggest piece of business the world of football has to offer".

It was he, in his current role as the 2006 ambassador, who greeted the Fifa dignitaries as they decanted from their helicopters at Wembley (previously The Empire) Stadium and guided them on a tour of what he lovingly referred to as "the old dear".

Of course this was mainly for nostalgia purposes, as the twin towers and everything else are due to be flattened next September to make way for a new national stadium - centrepiece of the England bid.

"Everybody all over the world - fans, players - wants to be here and see the great old stadium, and I think they enjoyed the visit," Sir Geoff said as the helicopters roared off to the next stop on Fifa's hectic hard-sell trip - Sir Norman Foster's presentation of plans for the new Wembley.

They particularly liked the visit to the old changing-rooms, where he and Sir Bobby Charlton (ambassador number two) chewed the fat about what it was like in there an hour before the 1966 World Cup final.

He also took them to see the famous crossbar - "my crossbar" - which played such a crucial part in the game. Anyone who thought it wasn't a goal would have been ejected from the ground, he joked.

He was less amused by the idea that perhaps there might be a little too much glitz and glamour associated with the bid. This featured the Irish singer Chris De Burgh (Liverpool fanatic) doing a special set for the delegation and members of the 1966 team at an intimate dinner at Claridge's last night hosted by Gary Lineker.

It will also involve Hugh Grant (keen Fulham fan, apparently) gracing the farewell dinner at Hampton Court Palace on Monday night.

"I don't like words like glitz and glamour," said a stern Sir Geoff. "An important part of the process is to foster good relationships. These are very important people, guests of our country, and we can't treat them with any less than the highest respect."

In between, they will actually get to look at some football grounds and see a match - as well as meeting stars such as David Beckham and Michael Owen.

The England coach, Kevin Keegan, who cheerfully talks about football and showbusiness in the same sentence, is also on the list.

Other insiders are even less shy about this part of the plan. "There are an awful lot of showbiz stars who have said they want to support the bid, but we are not using them all yet," said one. Still to come, it seems, are the likes of Sir Elton John, Mick Jagger, All Saints, Sting and the UN goodwill ambassador, Geri Halliwell. "Let's face it, we're better placed for that kind of thing than our German rivals. Who have they got? Kraftwerk."

Even the Prince of Wales was keen to help as best he could (the Germans don't have a royal family).

Having failed to turn up for a state banquet for the Chinese president on Thursday, the Prince hosted a reception for Fifa yesterday afternoon at St James's Palace, including a committee member from China. Obviously a prince with his eye on popular priorities. Before this there had been an audience with the Prime Minister on Thursday night and dinner with Mo Mowlam, Minister for the Cabinet Office.

Yesterday started with a stern, serious talking-to from Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, and Sir Paul Condon, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner.

"English football has been transformed and is booming once more," said Mr Straw. "Mass hooliganism no longer blights our national game. I believe that England is better prepared than any of its rivals to host a safe and secure World Cup."

Perhaps the Government really is packed with rabid football fans - Tony Blair never fails to emphasise his own love for Newcastle United.

Or maybe he is heeding the wisdom of Harold Wilson - that staging the 1966 World Cup helped him to win that year's election.

And some people still think it is just a game.

How Fifa will be feted

The Fifa delegation's itinerary

Thursday: Trip to FA headquarters at Lancaster Gate. Audience with Prime Minister. Dinner with Mo Mowlam, Minister for the Cabinet Office.

Yesterday: Meeting with Jack Straw, the Home Secretary. Tour of Wembley Stadium with Sir Geoff Hurst and Sir Bobby Charlton. Presentation of new National Stadium with Sir Norman Foster. Reception with Prince of Wales at St James's Palace. Meeting with Greg Dyke, director-general designate of the BBC and other TV channel heads at Broadcasting House. Private dinner at Claridge's with 1966 World Cup winners and hosted by Gary Lineker. Chris De Burgh sings.

Today: Attend Chelsea v Arsenal at Stamford Bridge. Travel to Midlands.

Tomorrow: Visit potential 2006 World Cup venues at Aston Villa's Villa Park and Derby County's Pride Park. Travel to North-east to visit Sunderland's Stadium of Light.

Monday: Travel to North-west. Visit to Liverpool FC Academy, and Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium. Gala farewell dinner at Hampton Court Palace attended by Hugh Grant, Kevin Keegan and Gary Lineker.

Total cost: £10m

Funds equally from the Football Association, Premier League clubs and lottery money from Sport England (latter repayable if successful).

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