18 February 2000

Minister attack woman pledges farmer donation

By Johann Tasker

THE woman who attacked farm minister Nick Brown with a chocolate eclair has pledged to give farmers some of the money she made from selling her story to a tabloid newspaper.

Birgit Cunningham hit the headlines after smearing the eclair over Mr Brown in protest at his handling of the farm crisis.

She subsequently sold her story to the Mail on Sunday after it emerged that she had previously lived a glamorous life in Hollywood dating actor Kevin Costner and once sharing a flat with actress Elizabeth Hurley.

Newspapers have paid thousands of £s for similar stories in the past.

Ms Cunningham declined to say how much money she was paid, but pledged to make a donation to the Small and Family Farms Alliance, an organisation run by Cornwall farmer Michael Hart. Mr Hart had helped Ms Cunningham write an open letter to Prime Minister, Tony Blair, drawing attention to the plight of family farms, which was printed alongside the Mail on Sunday story.

Mr Hart was contacted by Ms Cunningham while she was working as a researcher for The Ecologist magazine. He said: "I was unaware that it was her who had done the chocolate eclair job. It just so happened that I was in London to meet up with various pressure groups the following day."

Mr Hart arrived at Paddington station and phoned Ms Cunningham to arrange a meeting. Previously he had never met her in person. "She told me that the Mail on Sunday wanted her to write the open letter and asked me for my help."

Mr Hart said he wrote about 1600-1700 words, which the Mail cut to 400.

He said Ms Cunningham asked for facts and figures about the farm crisis because she had been researching the subject for two months.

It was only later when Ms Cunningham offered to make a donation that Mr Hart realised she was getting paid for the story.

He said: "I did not particularly want to get paid but said the SFFA, which is struggling for funds, would be very grateful if she made a donation. How much it is or when, I do not know. She said she will donate some of the money which she is being paid herself."

The SFFA has 400 members and is affiliated to other similar groups.

Mr Hart said he was 99% sure that Ms Cunningham was genuine, but was not 100% behind her way of drawing attention to the farming crisis. "If she wants people to take her seriously, she has now got to act seriously," he said.

The Ecologist magazine, which employed Ms Cunningham on a freelance basis, has distanced itself from her activities. She no longer works for it.

Ms Cunningham said: "I think that donating most of the money to Mr Hart was the least I could do because he seemed to be doing a lot of hard work."

Earlier this week she posed for photographers feeding a chocolate eclair to a pig at a farmers vigil at Parliament Square in London. &#42

Birgit Cunningham: An unlikely champion for the farming cause.