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Saturday, 24 August, 2002, 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK
Tap Water Awards want fresh start
Emma Thompson
Emma Thompson backed the anti-Perrier campaign

The Perrier Award may still be the ultimate prize at the Edinburgh Fringe but the Tap Water Awards offer an alternative.

The rival awards were cobbled together last year in protest against Nestle, which became Perrier's parent company in the early 90s.

Rob Newman urged his fellow comedians to boycott Perrier in support of the Baby Milk Action group, which campaigns against Nestle's milk marketing policies in developing countries.

The food company has been criticised for promoting its powdered formula milk in Africa by Baby Milk Action, which believes it encourages women in the developing world not to breastfeed.

Those accusations are fiercely denied by Nestle, which insists it complies fully with World Health Organisation guidelines.

Nestle headquarters
Nestle have been criticised by some high profile stars

While other high profile names such as Emma Thompson, Mark Thomas and Victoria Wood lent their support to last year's campaign, the Tap Water Awards 2001 proved to be a fairly low-key affair.

This year, it hopes to become more established and arts trust Out of the Blue has taken on the challenge of managing the event at Edinburgh's Bongo Club.

This year the Tap Water Awards will be held the same day the Perrier winner is announced.

Nominees will be announced during the ceremony before the judges, and the audience will choose a winner.

I don't think Perrier should be at the Fringe

Suzy Merrall
The award has also been backed by some major trade unions including Unison and the Transport and General Workers' Union.

But Suzy Merrall, Out of the Blue festival and project co-ordinator, says competing with the Perrier is not the awards' objective.

"It is not really a rival to the Perrier, more of an alternative. But I don't think Perrier should be at the Fringe, it is a totally unethical company," she says.

Jenny Eclair
Jenny Eclair's career took off after she won the Perrier Award
In fact, Ms Merrall is not that keen on competition at the Fringe at all.

"I don't think that is what the Festival is about but people do like to win things, so fair enough."

The bulk of celebrity backing still comes from "the Mark Thomas" brigade, as Merrall calls them.

But perhaps it is too much to expect up and coming comedians to turn down the chance of winning the prestigious Perrier.

After all, it has catapulted many relative unknowns into the spotlight over the years, including Frank Skinner, Steve Coogan, Lee Evans, Jenny Eclair and Al Murray - The Pub Landlord.

"It is hard to encourage young comedians to boycott Perrier, especially when that award is held up as the solution to a comedian's career and they also offer prize money," says Merrall.

She also thinks that many people are not aware of the Tap Water Awards before they arrive and are too busy stressing about their performances to notice when they get there.

Omid Dijalili calls himself Britain's funniest Iranian stand-up comedian and actor
Omid Djalili is one of this year's Perrier nominees
"We are thinking of doing a mailshot to performers prior to their arrival in Edinburgh for next year," she says.

The Tap Water Awards may not be able to hand out cash prizes but organisers have set up an ethical performers website, which winners will be listed on.

"There will be a link to each performer's website or to a resumé of their work if they don't have one."

The idea is that it can be used by companies or schools who may wish to hire the artists to create performances based on water and other environmental issues.

The Perrier Award is not too concerned at the competition, as it has dominated the comedy circuit at the Fringe for the last two decades.

The Tap Water Awards are not the only alternative; other competitions include So You Think You're Funny? and the Open Mic award.

So are there too many awards on the Fringe these days?

Fringe spokesman Martin Reynolds does not think so.

"The Fringe can support them all. It is not as if every act or comedian enters the same competition," he says.

The Tap Water Awards take place at the Bongo club in Edinburgh this Saturday.

Coverage of the 2002 Edinburgh Festival from BBC News Online

The buzz

In focus

Fringe diarists



See also:

05 Aug 02 | Entertainment
21 Aug 02 | Entertainment
31 Jul 01 | Entertainment
24 Jul 01 | Entertainment
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