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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Sunday 6th February 2005

I'm just not man enough for poker with the 'stars'

I had a very narrow escape earlier this week. I went up to Cardiff to participate in my first ever poker tournament and, praise be to God, I was eliminated almost immediately. Had I done even marginally better--had I lasted a couple of hours, for instance--I might have persuaded myself that I was a demon poker player, hopped on the next plane to Vegas and gone on to lose a fortune. As it was, all I lost was my dignity.

The tournament in question was called the "Celebrity Poker Club". I was supposed to be one of 43 "celebrities" taking part, but the only person at my table whose name I recognized was Johnny Vegas. I've always laboured under the illusion that this comedian's drunkenness is a clever act and that beneath his disheveled exterior lurks a steel-trap mind. But having seen him play poker, I've now changed my mind. Even I was better than him--and that's saying something.

The tournament's commentator was Victoria Coren, the winner of last year's "Celebrity Poker Club", and the highlight of the day was listening to her comments on the previous game which came down to a head-to-head between Alexander Armstrong, the sometime presenter of Have I Got News For You, and James Hewitt. Britain's most famous cad went out holding a King and a Queen, enabling Victoria to say, "The Queen has never been James Hewitt's friend and now she's sealed his fate."

In spite of the scarcity of celebrities at my table, I was quite impressed by the caliber of the participants. Also taking part in the tournament were John McCririck, Richard Dunwoody, Dave Gorman, Michael Praed, Jon Thomson, Ally McCoist, Craig Charles and Claudia Winkleman, to name just a few. All in all, it was a more impressive line up than the most recent series of I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here and Celebrity Big Brother which was remarkable given that no one was being paid. (At least, that's what the producers told me.) They were all there, apparently, for the love of the game--though the fact that the tournament is going to be broadcast on television later this year on Challenge can't have hurt.

Poker has become incredibly fashionable of late. In Los Angeles, George Clooney, Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer all host regular poker nights at their palatial homes and Ben Affleck's passion for No Limit Texas Hold'em is reported to be one of the reasons his relationship with Jennifer Lopez foundered. In London, A-list players include Charles Saatchi, Stephen Fry, Ricky Gervais, Keith Allen and Sir Clive Sinclair. It's a measure of just how trendy poker has become that Martin Amis actually cut short a lunch with Prince Philip so he could compete in last year's "Celebrity Poker Club".

My theory is that poker tournaments are one of the few arenas left in which it's completely acceptable to be really masculine. At the poker table such behaviour as drinking, bragging, belching, swearing and farting are not merely permitted; they're actively encouraged. In poker, unlike in real life, aggressive alpha males come out on top and metrosexuals end up getting squished. This accounts for the fact that the vast majority of celebrity poker players are men. Unfortunately, as I discovered last week, I'm too much of a girly-man to thrive in this environment. I'm just glad I found this out this before I lost my house.


I can't understand the jubilation that's greeted the news that more and more films are being shot in London. Thanks to the use of scenic, outdoor locations in films like Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and Bride and Prejudice, the total number of location shoots in London increased by 9% last year. The "credit" for this boom is being taken by Lord Puttnam who has launched a personal crusade to cut through the red tape that has kept producers and directors out of the city until now.

As someone who's lived in both New York and Los Angeles, where location shoots have reached epidemic proportions, I can assure you that this is terrible news. If this trend continues, you won't be able to walk from A to B anywhere in the city without being held up by a group of self-important, headset-wearing Nazis telling you to wait behind a barrier because they're "turning over".

Congestion in the capital is bad enough without a bunch of Hollywood types making it worse by cordoning off large areas and clearing them of pedestrians so they can foster the illusion that London is actually a pleasant place to live.


I was intrigued to learn that the BBC is planning a merchandising blitz to tie-in with the new series of Dr Who. Apparently, BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the corporation, has signed a licensing deal with the makers of Robosapien, last Christmas's must-have children's toy.

But why align themselves with such a high-tech company? Couldn't the BBC produce the new Doctor Who toys in-house? After all, the only materials you need to make a Dalek are some egg cartons and a toilet plunger. I don't see why the presenters of Blue Peter can't knock a few out in between trips to Battersea Dogs Home.

I fear the BBC has delusions of grandeur about Dr Who. The executives behind the new series clearly imagine it's going to be the Star Wars of the 21st Century and are planning to cash in accordingly. I just hope that the BBC special effects department has improved somewhat since the last series was made 15 years ago.


I was alarmed to hear that Franz Ferdinand has been nominated for five Brits and four NME Awards. The British music scene is so starved of talent that the moment a half decent band comes along they're festooned with awards. They then go completely doolally, trashing hotel rooms and sleeping with supermodels for a year, before sinking back into oblivion. Wouldn't it be better to allow them time to develop so that when the glittering prizes come they don't immediately go their heads?

Still, it may be too late for Franz Ferdinand. Last week Tony Blair named them as his favourite band when he was interviewed by June Sarpong on T4. If that's not the kiss of death I don't know what is

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