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Thursday, January 21, 1999 Published at 19:02 GMT


Geri's ginger pal steals arts awards

Geri Halliwell: Introduced her new best friend

Musician Talvin Singh and late poet Ted Hughes were winners at the South Bank Show Awards in London - but former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell stole the show with her dog.

Tabla player Singh beat Robbie Williams and Massive attack to the pop musician of the year award, while Hughes' Birthday Letters collection picked up its third top award in the literature section.

Playwright Alan Bennett and conductor Sir Simon Rattle and comedian Steve Coogan were among the other winners.

But it was the former Ginger Spice who took the audience's attention when she presented the best musician award to Singh, when she turned up on stage with the shitzu.

'New band mate'

"This is my new band mate Harry," she told the audience at the Savoy Hotel. "He's more reliable than any man."

It is thought she rescued Harry, who shares her auburn hair colouring, from Battersea Dogs' Home.

Ms Halliwell said she was overawed by the presence of so many distinguished actors, musicians and writers at the awards, organised by London Weekend Television's arts programme.

"I have been told you have truly arrived when you are on the South Bank Show, so it's a big honour to be here," she said.

Talvin Singh's distinctive style of music has won him a cult following, but he said there were no categories for his sound. "If you have a potato, you don't ask where it's from. A good potato is a good potato."

Tributes to Hughes

[ image: Ted Hughes: More tributes for the late Poet Laureate]
Ted Hughes: More tributes for the late Poet Laureate
Ted Hughes' friend Seamus Heaney paid tribute to the Poet Laureate, who died in October, by video.

He said Birthday Letters, a collection of poety about Hughes' tragic wife Sylvia Plath was "a counter-offensive against what Keats called 'the heart's affections'".

It reminded readers that in Hughes "we had a poet equal to the high expectations and deserving of all the high honours which have always surrounded the poet".

The award was accepted by Hughes' daughter Freda, one of his two children with Plath.

Birthday Letters has already won the Forward Poetry Prize, the TS Eliot Poetry Prize and is a front-runner for next week's Whitbread Book Of The Year.

Bennett attacks critics

[ image: Alan Bennett: Memories of Leeds]
Alan Bennett: Memories of Leeds
Alan Bennett, who won Best Drama for Talking Heads, took the opportunity to attack his critics on stage.

"They said the women I write about no longer exist. Well, I think that's tosh. To any critic that said that, I suggest they go to Leeds.

"They say Leeds now has Harvey Nichols, as if the establishment of Harvey Nichols means that human nature has to be reassessed.

"I am old enough to remember Marshal and Snelgrove," he said to laughter.

Sir Simon Rattle, the departing leader of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, won the Outstanding Achievement award. On tape from the US, he thanked "the musicians, audiences, and people of Birmingham. In every way, they have been my family".

He was presented with his award by Culture Secretary Chris Smith, who said he was starting to reverse the decline of instrument tuition in schools, something Sir Simon had urged him to do.

Loach's Blair jibe

However, film director Ken Loach made a jibe at the government from the podium when he won an award for My Name Is Joe.

Thanking the people of Glasgow, for help in making the film, he said: "I guess they have as much chance of doing this as they have of seeing Tony Blair turn into a socialist."

Last year Sir Peter Hall used the ceremony to attack the government's record on arts funding.

South Bank Show presenter Lord Bragg hosted the awards which also featured guest appearances by Kathy Burke, Lord Menuhin and Dame Edna Everage.

The winners were:

Pop Music: Talvin Singh

Classical Music: Anthony Payne, who completed Elgar's Third Symphony

Literature: Ted Hughes for Birthday Letters

Comedy: Steve Coogan

Dance: Birmingham Royal Ballet

Opera: John Tomlinson

Theatre: Michael Frayn's Copenhagen

Visual Arts: Anthony Gormley for the Angel of The North

Drama: Alan Bennett, Talking Heads

Film: Ken Loach, My Name Is Joe

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