The Princess Diana Memorial Balloon, and other good uses for a lot of hot air

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The skies are becoming just as crowded with round-the-world balloonists as Mount Everest is with climbing expeditions. So for those who can't tell one shiny balloon attempt from another, here is a complete run-down of all those expeditions at present hoping to achieve the first non-stop hot air balloon trip round the world.

Chris Evans Takeover Group

Basically, this is just an attempt to get there before Richard Branson does, but Chris Evans aims to make it a really fun, really wacky, really off-the-wall attempt to fly round the world, with lots of guests, lots of gags, lots of stunts, lots of video inserts and hopefully lots of hilarious fatalities. The balloon will be bright orange and Chris will be broadcasting all his normal shows from on board.

Michael Palin "Round The Top" TV Series Balloon

You thought there was no new way left for Michael Palin to go round the world? Wrong! 30,000ft up, that's how. What's amazing, as usual, is that he will be completely alone in the balloon and yet will come back with hours of perfectly shot, perfectly focused film. How do they do it? And how many new and interesting people will he "accidentally" meet up there?

Tory Party Single Currency Balloon

Lord Howe, Chris Patten and many of the great and good (old and stubborn) of the Tory party are determined to fly the flag for Europe and against William Hague by getting in a basket together and taking off round the world. As they don't know where they will land, they are taking pounds 3,000 in 20 different currencies with them, which can also be used as ballast. "I wouldn't be surprised if `Throw out pounds 50 in Hungarian small change!' didn't become a new music hall catchphrase!" says Lord Howe.

The Two Fat Ladies Balloon

The first cookery programme to go round the world in a balloon with a side-car, The Two Fat Ladies Balloon will descend here and there, and cause consternation as two fat ladies disgorge themselves from the gondola and tell the locals they're cooking it all wrong. This will be the largest balloon going round the world, as it will be carrying so much extra bulk. (Mostly flour, butter and olive oil.)

The Princess Diana Memorial Balloon.

Earl Spencer has announced that in response to zillions of requests, he has decided in Diana's memory to send a balloon shaped like a temple round the world so that people of all nations can worship her name as she passes. The balloon will not be manned, but people can throw in flowers as it passes, preferably non-rotting. Before take-off, you may visit the site but only be able to see the balloon from half a mile away. Phone Earl Spencer for more details.

The Start The Week Balloon

Melvyn Bragg is hoping to make a serious attempt to discover if, by taking a group of thinkers round the world, you can talk your way into discovering the origins of everything before you have come back. The experts in the balloon will include a geneticist, a leading novelist, a man who is giving a lecture at the Royal Geographical Society this Wednesday, and a rather pretty girl from one of the newspapers, who will be thrown out if things get rough.

The Royal Opera House Balloon

While Covent Garden is closed and being refurbished, low budget productions will be toured from this balloon. Unfortunately, the cost of installing all the governors, VIPs, corporate hospitality, etc means that it is already horrendously over-budget. Perhaps they will just take a lieder recital on tour after all.

The Spin Doctor Balloon

Built in the shape of a Dome, this structure will take 10 spin doctors round the world, who intend to land everywhere there is adverse comment about the balloon and demand that the record be put straight. The fact that I have already had two pained phone calls from Peter Mandelson since I started writing this paragraph shows how serious they are.

Lord Lichfield and the Most Beautiful Girls in The World

Nice to see this veteran lot in action again. Responsible for some of the most popular garage calendars of recent years, they aim to produce the ultimate - a series of photographs taken at altitudes too high for champagne to be safely air-lifted. "We may be reduced to Chateau Margaux," quips the light-hearted Lord. "See you again in 12 months!"

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