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25 October 2007

So cool it hurts

Bring on the new crop of celebs. Tara Hamilton-Miller identifies the A-listers and C-listers working

By Tara Hamilton-Miller

Jim Davidson, Paul Daniels, Phil Collins, Peter Stringfellow – the main players in recurring nightmares, and all celebrity Tory supporters. Under David Cameron, there is now a different sort of personality and they don’t look like old comedians or the back row of an OK! magazine wedding shoot.

This past week it was announced that the property expert Kirstie Allsopp is to use her specialist knowledge to lead a Conservative review into buying and selling homes. The Location, Location, Location presenter, who is a friend of Cameron’s, will be working with the shadow housing minister, Grant Shapps, on a project to help make it easier for first-time buyers to get on the property ladder. Allsopp said, “All I want to do is make it easier for homebuyers.”

The practice of outsourcing policy to television personalities, although tolerated by Tory MPs who are “quite happy to occasionally meet someone famous”, is not welcomed by all. One grumpy backbencher is unconvinced, “If Grant Shapps can’t do it, fine – let’s do it properly and elect Kirstie Allsopp. If she knows more than he does, it makes sense, and she’s easier on the eye.”

Never before had the Tory affiliation to stardom been so madly misjudged as when the party’s priority candidates list, the A-list, was published. Seduced by a few minor celebs, the selection committee ensured they leapfrogged over many more serious candidates who had fought previous elections and had donated more than a pound of flesh to the cause.

There were huge hopes for Adam Rickitt, a top “name” and actor who appeared in Coronation Street and had a brief career in pop. His last video featured him naked, inexplicably trapped in a Perspex cube. It is not known if he was placed on the A-list in spite, or because, of that.

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Unsuccessful in acquiring a safe seat, Rickitt fled to New Zealand to appear in a soap opera. Last month he was arrested in an Auckland supermarket, Pak’nSave, for shoplifting a block of cheese, a jar of coffee and a bottle of HP Sauce. Not so amusing for those whose names were omitted from the A-list in favour of troubled creatures like himself. As one MP pointed out, “Hysterical. It’s worthy of the Liberal Democrats.”

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Another A-lister who was also welcomed with open arms is the Liverpudlian bombshell and former GMTV presenter Esther McVey. In 2002 she caused a stir when she turned up at Conservative headquarters wearing a black tuxedo jacket, no shirt but a tie, and a beret at an exceedingly jaunty angle, part comedy Frenchman, part naughty phone-line advert. She created her opportunity, and took it. With luck the voters of Wirral West, where she is standing as parliamentary candidate, will recognise this.


The Tories are definitely attracting the London social elite. Leading the pack is Zac Goldsmith, followed by Andrew Roberts and Frederick Forsyth. But many of them are already friends of David Cameron or his wife. The film producer Matthew Vaughn, husband of the supermodel Claudia Schiffer, has been a supporter for a while. One of the more interesting lots at a recent Tory ball offered the chance to bid for a walk-on part in his latest film.

Think-tank parties are also becoming hot tickets, teeming with new, interested personalities and old ones who have come sauntering back. Anya Hindmarch, the hugely popular handbag designer, usually sends one of her wares for auction. This year she is chairing the Black and White Ball, one of the highlights of the calendar.

Culinary types also tend to favour the Tories: Antony Worrall Thompson, Prue Leith (mother of Danny Kruger, one of Cameron’s smartest strategists) and even Marco Pierre White, who donned a claret smoking jacket to attend a Tory event recently. (Cameron chose a White restaurant for his 40th birthday lunch.)

The formidable Anne Jenkin, a political adviser and charity fundraiser who has organised high-profile Tory events, has an address book packed with stars. She, too, has noticed a change. “It’s a lot easier to get big names on board now; there’s no longer any shame in being a Tory, nor is working with them a career-threatening choice.”

As long as the party doesn’t get too grand about its famous chums. For nearly ten years at party fundraisers, auctioneers losing enthusiasm would look hopefully at the colourful String fellow table, willing him to bid £70,000 for the opportunity to win a weekend in Perthshire.

Most celebrities are fickle. Look how quickly Arnold Schwarzenegger realised he was unfortunately unable to attend Tory conference when he found out they were behind in the polls. One man who will support them no matter where their fortunes lie is Rick Wakeman. I challenge anyone to question the cool quotient of a man who still looks like a wizard and played the Mellotron on David Bowie’s Space Oddity.