Editor-At-Large: Cannes, pah! Been there, done that

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The Independent Online

Tonight, in Cannes, the paparazzi will be out in force as the Mediterranean sky is penetrated by pulsating searchlights. Queues of stretch limousines will be belching out fumes the length of the Croisette. Thousands of fans will line the pavements, craning their necks, eager for

Tonight, in Cannes, the paparazzi will be out in force as the Mediterranean sky is penetrated by pulsating searchlights. Queues of stretch limousines will be belching out fumes the length of the Croisette. Thousands of fans will line the pavements, craning their necks, eager for

a glimpse of Nicole, Meg, Arnie, Clint or Penelope as they make their way up the red-carpeted steps of the Palais des Festivals. It's the closing ceremony of the 56th Cannes film festival, the most glamorous movie event outside the Oscars (and the food is better). Fifty-two films have been competing, and tonight we'll discover who has won the prestigious Palme D'Or. Will it be Lars von Trier's Dogville, in which the plucky Ms Kidman suffers horrible humiliations? Or the latest convoluted opus from Peter Greenaway?

Cannes is packed with 4,000 journalists and 200,000 visitors. Networking and dealing has been a 24-hour business over the past 10 days, with parties attended by everyone from Meg Mathews upwards. Home-grown stars such as Emily Mortimer, Ewan McGregor, Helen Mirren, Julie Walters and Stephen Fry have been industriously promoting their latest offerings. Big-shot producers like Harvey Weinstein and Stephen Woolley have been closeted in hotel rooms doing deals. Writers and directors have been pitching ideas to anyone and a dog who might put up some money. The air is thick with the stench of desperation, sweaty armpits, hangovers and cigarette smoke.

I've done Cannes with the best of them. One year I attended a ball on the arm of Elton John, sporting a borrowed necklace worth half a million pounds. A security man followed me to the loo. On Sky News the next day I looked like the new lady mayor of Clerkenwell wearing a sapphire chain of office. Another time my friend Verity Lambert had produced a film with Meryl Streep, and I nearly missed the grand screening stuck in a traffic jam on the way into town.

Once I wore a too-tight short frock and very high heels to an independent producer's party. After I'd spent an hour fighting off a handful of persistent balding old men at pelvic level, Verity made the smart observation that "a stylish 95 per cent dress does tend to attract 10 per cent ghastly men". Then there was the year I found myself at 2am in a nightclub completely slaughtered, dancing with the tiny but perfectly formed Rob Lowe. Next day I woke up to discover Peter Ustinov had invited me to lunch. I was so hung over, and so enchanted by his wit and repartee, that I commissioned a film for the BBC in which the great man interviewed Pavarotti. When it arrived it featured two fat middle-aged white men standing in a swimming pool, followed by the same men slumped in a kitchen eating pasta.

But I digress. In a nutshell I've had my fill of Cannes. I've decided to head off somewhere far more stylish, an event where I, not Meg Ryan or Steven Soderbergh, will be welcomed, perhaps even fêted. Wearing my best long (but suitably modest) silk dress, I shall be in Port Moresby, in front of 500 VIPs, including the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, a clutch of ambassadors, high commissioners, business executives and prominent artists and writers, declaring the third Papua New Guinea film festival officially open.

After a brief speech, thanking my sponsors Connect UK (the organisation that promotes British culture and education in these parts) I shall present the prize for best film and hand over to the master of ceremonies, William Takaku - you might have seen him in Robinson Crusoe with Pierce Brosnan.

Papua New Guinea doesn't have any cinemas. So the festival (which is free) shows popular films at venues such as school halls. One is at the Divine Word University in Madang. This year's theme is comedy, and Britain is represented by such top fare as Four Weddings and a Funeral, East Is East and Carry on Cleo, not to mention some old episodes of Hancock. I expect the locals to come away with a bizarre impression if they think this is what life in contemporary Britain is like. But it will be a lot of fun. I won't be dancing with Rob Lowe, but I will be the belle of the ball in my role as queen of culture. More next week.

Palace palaver

Sir Terry Farrell, the architect who gave us the MI6 headquarters at Vauxhall Cross, is a man who doesn't mince his words. Paradoxically he believes in accessibility. His latest book is entitled Buckingham Palace Redesigned and he provoked an outcry when his plans to revamp this temple to the empire were aired in a documentary on Channel 4.

Now he's turned his attention to the royal parks (he served on the Royal Parks Review Group in the 1990s, so he knows what he's talking about). While parks all over Britain are strapped for funds, taxpayers' money for the royal parks is ring-fenced. They are lush, well-tended, graffiti-free and litter-free pools of calm - horticultural showpieces of world ranking.

Rightly, Sir Terry feels that the Government's big plans to build in the Thames Gateway are doomed unless a new royal park forms the centrepiece. For no one will want to live in areas that consist of pylons and reclaimed industrial land unless the neigh- bourhood has an identity. The Thames Gateway is the biggest opportunity to build a modern city in decades.

The royal palaces were originally country houses, set in parkland. Today, the Palace gardens are surrounded by an ugly high wall, sending out all the wrong messages. Sir Terry finds it "pompous, not a great building", and wishes that the forecourt was dismantled and the railings re-used to surround the gardens.

He proposes cutting four large arches in the front of the palaceso that the courtyard by Nash can be seen. He proposes a colonnade in front of the palace, and toilets, kiosks and railings which can be brought up from ground level hydraulically on ceremonial occasions. What he is doing is trying to come up with a scheme that will make London a world-class city once more.

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