15 March 2002

Joan Collins:Right celeb?

A PUBLIC relations company has defended its choice of actress Joan Collins to launch a government-led initiative to encourage visitors to the countryside.

The film star was in Leicester Square last Sunday (Mar 10) to open Your Countryside, Youre Welcome Week.

Onlookers were treated to a host of treats, including sheepdogs herding ducks, a falconry display, food tasting and scarecrows on stilts, as more than 40 rural organisations tried to tempt back tourists after foot-and-mouth.

But media attention focused on welly-throwing, ferret-racing, and a pantomime cow which accompanied Ms Collins. The Daily Mail ran a spoof rural quiz. People who know that milk comes from cows rather than Fortnum & Mason dont need Joan Collins to show them the countryside, it said. Low-scoring readers should listen to The Archers.

Only one-third of respondents to a poll on FARMERS WEEKLY Interactive said it was a good idea for Ms Collins to promote the countryside. Richard Burge, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, was quoted in The Independent saying he would have liked a celebrity more "deeply associated" with rural Britain.

A spokeswoman for Biss Lancaster, the PR firm which handled the event, said some parts of the media would always "take a pop at somebody big". But she added: "The reality was that somebody with a high profile was needed to get the message across that the countryside is open and we succeeded in doing that." &#42