Scarlett sees red over Lloyd Webber's claim

Henry Deedes
Friday 18 August 2006 00:00 BST

* Any hopes of Scarlett Johansson and Andrew Lloyd Webber working together in the future are starting to look pretty fanciful.

Lloyd Webber is currently casting the part of Maria in his latest musical, The Sound of Music, in an X Factor-style television show for the BBC called How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?

He came up with the idea of the programme after he claimed Johansson had pulled out of the musical at her entourage's say so.

"They couldn't understand why she would appear in the West End for £10,000 a week when she could be earning $10m for a movie," he was quoted as saying before the programme's launch.

Now, Johansson's team has hit back at the claims, and are accusing Lloyd Webber of fabricating details as a way of generating publicity for the TV show. "Negotiations over the show took place well over a year ago," Johansson's PR tells me.

"Why is Scarlett's name being brought into the media mix now, so far after the fact, when Mr Webber is trying to promote his reality show?

"I think we'll let you draw your own conclusions."

According to them, the reasons for Johansson turning down the part remains firmly due to "filming commitments".

When contacted yesterday about the mounting feud with the Hollywood starlet, however, Lloyd Webber's office declined to comment.

* Nearly 15 years since Freddie Mercury departed for that great stadium gig in the sky, his former bandmate Brian May is brushing up his poodle perm and preparing Queen for a surprise comeback album.

Although May and drummer Roger Taylor have often performed together with fellow rock veteran Paul Rodgers, this will mark the first recording of Queen material since Mercury's death in 1991.

"I talked to Paul, and confirmed we will be heading into the studio in October," says May. "Now it really looks as if we are on."

Queen's recording plans have been briefly put on hold to accommodate Rodgers' solo touring commitments, but May adds: "Then we will be turning our heads towards the studio, which, just possibly, will bring us all to a new place. We will take it gently at first, the priority being to feel good, and put ourselves in the mood to create."

* Iain Banks has committed the cardinal sin of failing to meet a deadline.

The award-winning novelist's latest work, Matter, was due to hit the shelves in a couple of weeks as a shoo-in for the Christmas bestseller lists.

It now won't be released until some time next March.

"It's all because I became a serial addict of the computer game 'Civilisation'," Banks said at this month's Edinburgh book festival.

"I played it for three months and then realised I hadn't done any work. In the end, I had to delete all the saved files and smash the CD.

"It is very unprofessional of me. I had to ask for an extension for the first time, which made me feel just like I was a student again."

* Now the A-levels results have been announced, it's that time of year again when newspapers publish their guides to university applications.

Yesterday's Times chose to "blurb" their pull-out on its front page with a picture of an attractive young student.

It's a strange choice, since the student in question is in fact Kaavya Viswanathan, a Harvard undergraduate who earlier this year had a publishing contract torn up after it was revealed her first book had sneakily plagiarised from two other writers.

* Ken Livingstone just wouldn't be Ken Livingstone if he wasn't busy championing gay rights. This week, the Mayor of London released a fiery statement after a bomb threat at a Gay Pride event in Estonia, describing it as "inexcusable". His comments have sparked a curt response from the London Assembly chairman, Brian Coleman, who reckons Ken should be focused on the security alert at London's airports. "This is ridiculous," he says. "Ken cares more about Estonian Gay Pride than he does about Londoners. Where was he when the terrorist plot was foiled?"

A spokesman for Livingstone responds: "It is a new low for the Chair of the Assembly to dismiss standing up for lesbian and gay rights as trivia."

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