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Thursday, 18 January, 2001, 12:10 GMT
How to get in Who's Who

Once you're in, you're in for life. But how do the editors of the guide to "influential people" choose who's in and who's out?

To some, making the bible-thin pages of Who's Who is the ultimate accolade.

To others, the annual catalogue of the great, the good and the titled is the ultimate in elitism, an anachronism in today's supposedly classless society.

But how do you get into the big red book, the latest edition of which is published this month? Although many have tried, you can't buy or bluff your onto the list.

New entrants - of which there are about 1,000 a year - are invited to "join" after a lengthy vetting process, says a spokesman for the publishers, A&C Black.

Lord Lucan
Book him: One vanishing act Lord Lucan never pulled off
If you are a peer, MP, QC, or high-ranking officer in the armed forces, you gain automatic entry. Ditto for those awarded a CBE or OBE.

Otherwise, you'll just have to hope one of the anonymous experts advising the editor recognises your achievements.

And once you're in, you're there until you die.

Lord Lucan may have been missing these past 26 years but until he is officially declared dead - at moment he is still only "presumed dead" - he can be found in Who's Who.

Fact or fiction?

The selection process for next year's edition has already begun.

"Sometimes the panel takes into consideration any recommendations received. But because they are all experts in their respective fields, they may well have people in mind," the spokesman says.

What's what about the 2001 edition
153rd edition
2,312 pages
Weighs 7lbs
Costs 120
Should 2002 be your year, expect an invitation to turn up around Easter.

Your answers to the accompanying questionnaire - full name, date of birth, education, career history, publications, contact details - will appear as is. The editors make no changes to the information supplied.

Charles Black, who retired as chairman when Bloomsbury took over the company last year, has said that the only criterion is that the entry is not libellous.

And asking people to write their own entries can be very revealing, particularly when it comes to the quaintly-titled "recreations" section.

Asking for trouble

Harrods boss Mohamed al-Fayed - unsuccessfully sued for libel by the former Tory MP, Neil Hamilton - has, perhaps wisely, left this section blank.

Mr al-Fayed in Harrods
"Happy birthday to me. Err, how old am I?"
So, too, has new entrant JK Rowling, the publicity-shy author of the Harry Potter books who summed up her life in a scant 110 words.

While some try to prove their comic credentials - the Oxford don who wiles away the hours "avoiding pop music and mobile phones"; the ambassador adept at "breaking computers" - others may well come to regret their candour.

In 1998, Professor George Salmond came under fire after listing "daily avoidance of assorted professional beggars, alcoholics and deranged individuals in the streets of Cambridge" as one of his recreations.

The Cambridge University microbiologist has since amended the entry to read: "avoiding hysterical media spins".

Shaving back the years

Other entrants choose to be a little economical with the truth.

Mr al-Fayed, author Anita Brookner, and actress Susan Hampshire are among those to inadvertently get the year of their birth wrong.

Susan Hampshire with co-star Richard Briers
"Well, it's a woman's prerogative"
When the editors gently suggested that Ms Brookner might like to correct the date, she instead opted to leave it out altogether.

And Lord Archer, the author and disgraced Tory peer, showed early form as a fiction writer when he filled in his questionnaire. Under education, he wrote Brasenose College, Oxford.

It's still in the latest edition, although it is now common knowledge that Baron Archer of Weston-Super-Mare has no degree and only attended Oxford to do a one-year postgraduate physical education course.

It's a secret

Given that the tome can provide elusive facts about people in the public eye, the team who put together Who's Who are a remarkably secretive lot.

Jeffrey Archer with the Beatles
"Hurry up lads, I've got to be back at 'university' soon"
The identity of the editor is a closely guarded secret, although the Daily Mail this week revealed the incumbent to be a 50-something woman called "Chris".

And the chosen ones are never told who has selected them and why.

"We don't want any accusations of favouritism," says the suitably anonymous spokesman.

"And the book is supposed to be about the achievements of those listed within, not the people who put it together."

After all, one wouldn't want to boast.

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10 Jan 00 | Entertainment
Who's Who for 2000
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