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Last Updated: Friday, 28 December 2007, 09:37 GMT
The rise of the celebrity adviser
By Justin Parkinson
BBC News political reporter

Angelina Jolie
Ms Jolie was rebuffed by the Italian prime minister
Hollywood star Angelina Jolie was desperate to talk, but Romano Prodi was having none of it.

The wife of Brad Pitt came to New York earlier this year to talk to the Italian prime minister about the plight of the developing world.

But he refused, haughtily saying: "I've never heard of a politician getting in trouble by not meeting an actress."

It was, in an age of ever-increasing invitations to celebrities to become involved in politics, a remarkable put-down.

UK politicians would, it seems, kill for the chance to be associated with such A-list tinseltown glamour.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, for one, has already discussed global education with Ms Jolie and basked in the afterglow of some kind comments from her.

'Youth issues'

The age of the celebrity political adviser is well and truly here.

As billionaire talkshow host Oprah Winfrey tours the US promoting presidential hopeful Barrack Obama, lesser lights of the showbiz world are being courted by all the main parties in the UK.

But what "advice" do they offer?

One of the first things Nick Clegg announced after being elected Liberal Democrat leader was that 60-year-old musician Brian Eno - of Roxy Music and other fame - would be briefing him on "youth" issues.

He said: "I'm announcing that Brian Eno, from outside politics, will start giving me advice on how we can make this country a country more fit for young people.

I don't care who I have to go to to try to make this agenda work
Bob Geldof
Anti-poverty campaigner

"Because I think it's not just children who've got particular or special needs. We're failing thousands and thousands of children who just have committed no crime other than being born into poverty."

"Outside politics" is a place our elected representatives want to reach.

Last month, GMTV host Fiona Phillips said she had turned down an offer from the prime minister to advise him on campaigning, particularly on health issues.

Asked about this, Downing Street said the government would "welcome all men and women of talent".

All parties would say the same.

Tycoon and star of The Apprentice Sir Alan Sugar has accepted an invitation to advise Mr Brown on business.

Kirstie Allsopp and Conservative housing spokesman Grant Shapps
Kirstie Allsopp has been courted by the Tories

Musician Feargal Sharkey has headed a government taskforce on promoting live music since 2004.

Kirstie Allsopp, the goddess of TV property shows and sworn enemy of the government's home information packs, agreed earlier this month to advise the Conservatives on ways of making buying and selling houses less stressful.

And singer Billy Bragg became so involved in constitutional issues that he put forward detailed plans in 2004 for reforming the House of Lords, which were taken seriously by ministers.

Politicians gain from being photographed and associated with popular figures from outside the Westminster village.


Celebrities, in turn, hope to get their message - often on a single issue - across, and possibly influence policies.

Bob Geldof, the former Boomtown Rats frontman and face of Live Aid, agreed in 2005 to become a consultant to the Conservative working group on global poverty.

But he said: "I don't care who I have to go to to try to make this agenda work."

Mr Geldof added: "If I can be of benefit to help set other parties' policies then I will do it."

Earlier that year, TV chef and school dinners campaigner Jamie Oliver held talks with Labour and the Conservatives, but declared himself politically neutral.

Politicians, by their very nature, court publicity, as do celebrities.

'Step too far'

Last year, Tory leader David Cameron invited the US rap artist Rhymefest for tea at the House of Commons to discuss the effects of violent lyrics.

Labour MP Stephen Pound called the meeting a "step too far" in attempting to gain the youth vote.

But the rapper responded: "I don't see him doing nothing. Yo, Pound! Where you at? You ain't meeting with nobody.

"You get somebody who wants to talk and discuss and you're going to criticise them? And you wonder why the people don't vote? Y'all cowards, man."

There, in a nutshell, is the dilemma. Is taking advice from celebrities a cynical voter-pleasing ploy, with politicians merely pretending to listen?

Or is it a genuine attempt to engage with the world outside politics?

Whichever it may be, if Angelina Jolie comes knocking in Westminster, don't expect too many party leaders to reject her offer as quickly as Mr Prodi.

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