20 April 2012 2:31 PM

Aiming for glory: the Paralympic athletes able to lift double their bodyweight

A paralympic weightlifter has told how he uses the Rocky films to inspire him to lift more than three times his bodyweight as he aims for 2012 glory.

Ali Jawad, right, 23, hopes to lift about 173kg when he competes in the powerlifting  at the ExCeL arena this summer.Ali Jawad

Ali, who was born in Beirut but grew up in Wood Green after being brought to the UK when he was six months old, weighs just 56kg after losing 12kg as a result of a serious stomach condition since he competed at his first Paralympics in Beijing.

Describing how he motivates himself to lift the weights from a bench-press position – lying on his back with the bar above him – he said: “I like to get myself quite angry. I think if I’m calm it will collapse on to me. It’s hard to control.
“I’m into the Rocky films and I listen to the Rocky music before I go on. I probably watch Rocky IV the night before every competition.”

Ali, who uses a wheelchair, began powerlifting while doing his GCSEs at White Hart Lane school, since renamed Woodside High, after having his talent spotted by a coach at a gym opposite the school. He competed at the Beijing Paralympics but underperformed due to Crohn’s disease – which went undiagnosed for nine months – breaking out the night before the competition.

“It’s a miracle I even got here,” he said of his selection in the Paralympics GB squad. “I came back in 2010 after a major operation.

“I struggle from fatigue. If I do flare up, I’m in such pain I can pass out with it. I have to fight through it every day. I will wake up in the morning and see how my body feels. I will decide then whether to push it or not.”

His condition, which causes an inflammation of the stomach, requires him to follow a gluten-free and dairy-free diet. “All my meat and veg has to be well-cooked.  I can’t have anything that is high in fibre either,” he said.

He expects the Egyptian powerlifter  Sherif Othman to win gold – he has lifted 206kg, exceeding even Ali’s personal best of 185kg when he was at his heaviest bodyweight – but hopes to challenge for silver. “Pound for pound, you could probably say I’m stronger,” he said.

Zoe NewsonZoe Newson, left, is hoping to repay the faith shown by her family and friends when she competes in her first Paralympics.

The 20-year-old powerlifter weighs less than 40kg but can bench-press weights of up to 88kg.

She won the junior world title in Malaysia in 2010 – and achieved fourth place in the senior competition – and has an outside chance of medal glory this summer.

“I think it just depends on the day,” she said. “The experience will be really good – these Paralympics are going to be massive.”

 Zoe, from East Bergholt near Colchester, began weightlifting at school. “I think it’s just luck that I got into it. I wanted to be a footballer but because of my size I couldn’t catch up with everyone. That’s why I tried powerlifting.”

 In between training five days a week, she does voluntary work at a children’s nursery. She expects to have huge support from her home village when she competes in London.

“I think of everyone who has supported me over the years – that keeps me focused. I just concentrate on that. I want to repay them.”

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Minicab boss: my plan to tackle 'holier than thou, gung-ho cyclists'

The boss of Britain’s biggest minicab firm today called for cyclists to undergo training and get insurance before being allowed to ride on London’s roads.

John Griffin, chairman of Addison Lee, said he wanted to end the “holier than thou, gung-ho” culture of some cyclists that he blamed for an increase in deaths and serious injuries.John Griffin

But he sparked immediate fury among cyclists who said that it was his taxi drivers who needed to be trained - something Mr Griffin says he has introduced for his 3,500 drivers to help them cope with “irresponsible” cyclists. There were calls on Twitter for a boycott of Addison Lee.

Mr Griffin said: “I think cyclists are not properly trained. The facts are that somebody who has never ridden a bike in their life can go out and hurl themselves into one of the busiest capitals in the world. That is irresponsible.

“Cyclists just go out in shorts and trainers, all gung-ho. I do think there is a critical issue. This is about people dying. We have to take it seriously. This idea of gay abandon, that you can do anything and everybody else should step aside... The problem is that our roads are not designed to have special roads for cyclists.

“There needs to be a cycling proficiency test. Cyclists should take that test before they are allowed on the roads. It’s in their interest. We would become more appreciative of the efforts they are making.”

UPDATE 1045am: Green Mayoral candidate Jenny Jones said: “These remarks demonstrate a shocking disregard for the lives and safety of London’s growing number of cyclists and road users in general.
“To suggest that the victims of road traffic incidents only have themselves to blame is horrifically offensive to the families of those who have lost their lives or been injured on London’s roads.
“I will not again use an Addison Lee taxi and am happy to join those calling for a total boycott of their organisation.”

Tory party donor Mr Griffin, who faces Transport for London in court next Monday in his battle to allow minicabs to use bus lanes, said he used to cycle to school in Finchley from his home in Kilburn.

He said: “I have got my Boris bike key. I take it [cycling] very seriously. I have done a lot of cycling in my time. For those of us who have done that, you understand that. Some people think, ‘Let’s buy a bike, let’s buy a deathtrap. Let’s go out there and be unresponsible.’ That is not right. Any reasonable person understands that.”

Last year there were 16 cycling fatalities - a five-year high - and serious and minor cycling accidents have risen nine per cent year-on-year. TfL insists cycling is getting relatively safer because the number of cyclists has also increased.

Mr Griffin, who last night sparked outrage with an article in his company magazine that appeared to blame cyclists for road accidents, said: “It’s not the proper cyclists I’m aiming at. It’s the irresponsible cyclists who think it’s a bit of a jape. It just seems that cyclists take the view that they are never to blame. You can’t take that view. Whoever is to blame, it’s a lot more painful for cyclists than the guy sitting in the protected car.

“As a motorist, you lose moments of attention. It can happen. For you, that is a dent in the car. For a cyclist, it’s a broken leg. You have to acknowledge that. Cyclists have to play a full part in protecting themselves. I’m drawing attention to that.

“I think they should take out their own insurance. We are paying masses of insurance and taxes on fuel. But we find ourselves sharing the road with someone who is untrained, uninsured and inexperienced. A solution needs to be found.”

He said the idea of segregated cycle lanes was an “unachievable dream” due to London’s street layout that dated back hundreds of years.

“We are not anti-cyclist,” he added. “We are just asking themselves to play a part in protecting themselves.

“As a cyclist myself, I have watched people who are not paying attention. They have got headphones on. They arew banging away, tapping the handlebars to the beat of the music. They have got to have all their wits about them. It’s irresponsbile. I don’t want them listening to pop music. I want them to be concentrating on the job in hand. It should be illegal.

“This isn’t a one-way street. This is about all of us sharing minimal space. If they are not going to help that happen, because we have the ‘holier than thou’ cyclist brigade, they have got that wrong.”

Boris on Barclays Cycle hireMr Griffin said he had not donated to Boris Johnson’s re-election campaign but would be voting for him as he was “somebody in politics with a sense of humour”.

He added: “It’s my view that Boris would entirely endorse  what I’m saying. He is a respobsible cyclist. He is not a gung-ho cyclist.”

Leon Daniels, TfL’s Managing Director of Surface Transport, said: “We have applied to the High Court for an interim injunction that will require Addison Lee to withdraw the letter it sent to its drivers on 14 April advising them to drive in bus lanes and telling them they were indemnified against any fine or liability incurred. The case will be heard on Monday 23 April.

“We continue to explore all options to take action against Addison Lee, including assessing the operator’s fitness to hold a private hire operator’s license.”

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18 April 2012 12:11 PM

One does approve: Heston's diamond jubilee picnic is to the Queen's taste

He is the three Michelin-starred chef renowned for turning cooking into science.

But Heston Blumenthal revealed today he has set aside his "smoke and bubbles" in devising a picnic for the diamond jubilee - which has been tasted and approved by the Queen herself.Heston Blumenthal

The menu, which will be enjoyed by 13,000 guests in Buckingham Palace's gardens prior to the pop concert featuring Kylie and Paul McCartney, includes tea-smoked salmon, "diamond jubilee chicken" and "Sandringham strawberry crumble crunch" with fruit from the Queen's private estate.

The chicken is a take on the coronation chicken recipe devised for the Queen's 1953 crowning, and is described by Blumenthal, 45, as the "ultimate curry". Guests will be able to wash it down with a glass of Moet & Chandon champagne - or a Cobra beer.

Blumenthal spent between four and five months working with royal chef Mark Flanagan in secret to devise the menu, which aims to reflect the "best of British" dishes over the Queen's reign.

Blumenthal joked: "We were looking at providing everybody with a litre of nitrogen but it wasn't possible."

Flanagan said: "He is not here to shock. I think we would all have loved some smoke and bubbles but, fundamentally for this number of people it's got to be practical."

The 13,000 hampers, which will include flags and a waterproof poncho in case of rain, are being provided by Waitrose free of charge as a gift to the Queen.

Each of the 10,000 people who have won tickets to the concert will receive one, as well as 2,000 of the Queen's guests and 1,000 volunteers helping at the June 4 celebrations.

Mark Price, chief executive of Waitrose, said: "Her Majesty has tasted it all. The Queen has personally been involved in seeing the hamper and all that goes into it. Her attention to detail is quite remowned."

None of the dishes will be sold in Waitrose but the supermarket will next month publish a recipe card the strawberry dessert to allow Britons to make it themselves and enjoy it at jubilee street parties.

The menu includes two cakes baked by Fiona Cairns, who made the wedding cakes last year for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

They are a lemon and caraway madeira cake and a "chocolate indulgence cake" sprinkled with popping candy.

All dishes will be prepared by Waitrose and brought to the palace, due to the numbers involved. Vegetarian and gluten and dairy-free options will be available, including a mushroom parfait that Flanagan described as his favourite dish.

Here's the menu:

Chilled British Country Garden Soup
- Baby plum tomato soup with red peppers and cucumber, with mint-infused oil

Best of British Potted Duo:
Tea-smoked Scottish Salmon
- Lapsang Souchong tea-smoked salmon with poached Scottish salmon, lemon and creme fraiche

Diamond Jubilee Chicken
- aromatic blend of Indian mixed spices with mayonnaise, shredded chicken, coriander andd peppery nigella seeds

Served with bread rolls and butter and crudites

Sandringham Strawberry Crumble Crunch
Yoghurt with strawberries and cream with crunchy meringue and oat-crumble topping

Lemon & Caraway Madeira Cake
- traditional madeira cake with zesty lemon and aniseed

Chocolate Indulgence Cake
- light fluffy sponge with rich ganache topping, decorated with a chocolate crown and sprinkled with popping candy

Duchy Originals from Waitrose organic mature West Country farmhouse cheddar and Red Leicester Crunch with chutney and oaten biscuits

Mushroom parfait
Roasted mushroom puree blended wit port, brandy and Madeira reduction, butter and eggs, then baked until set 

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17 April 2012 11:52 AM

Barbara Windsor reveals secret friendship with Amy Winehouse

Barbara Windsor today revealed a secret friendship with Amy Winehouse as she chose the singer as one of her “ideal guests” at a diamond jubilee street party.Barbara Windsor and the Tussauds model of Amy Winehouse

The former EastEnders actress told me that Winehouse, who she described as “my dear darling Amy”, used to visit her home in Marylebone while undergoing hospital treatment for drug addiction.

Windsor today announced that she had agreed to become patron of the Amy Winehouse Foundation and vowed to do “as much as I can” to promote its work raising awareness about the dangers of drug addiction and helping homeless and disadvantaged young people.

“We had a very close friendship,” Windsor revealed about her links with the singer, who died last July aged 27. “She was very friendly with my husband’s family. When she used to go into hospital, I was in the same street and she would pop round and nick my ashtrays. We used to talk for ages. We were very good friends.

“It’s something we kept quiet, just between us, because of the power of EastEnders, which I was in at the time, and the press were always on the look-out for her.”

Referring to her imaginary street party, which would also feature Sir Winston Churchill, Colin Firth and Jessica Ennis, Windsor added: “Amy would get up and sing songs. She liked that. She listened to the kind of music her dad listened to - Frank Sinatra and so on.”

Windsor was at Madame Tussauds today to pose alongside its waxwork figures of her chosen street party guests. The Mayor’s street party ambassador is encouraging Londoners to join with their neighbours to celebrate the Queen’s diamond jubilee over the June 2-5 bank holiday weekend.

She chose Firth because he “epitomises the typical British gentleman” and is “a lovely bit of eye candy”. Churchill would perform a rousing speech while Ennis, the world hepathlon champion, represented the country’s hopes for Team GB success at the Olympics.

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16 April 2012 12:38 PM

Swimmers demand Olympics legacy rather than "paddling pool" with no deep end


Greenwich protest 1
Swimmers in Greenwich are in uproar over council plans to build a new swimming pool that cannot be used for competitive swimming - because it's too shallow.

See here for my story in today's Evening Standard. There's also an excellent blog on the saga by the Greenwich Phantom. A petition and Facebook campaign has been set up by the Greenwich Swimming Club.

See here for a letter from Greenwich council leader Chris Roberts received by the club: Download Chris Roberts Letter to club re new pool

And see here for the club's less-than-impressed response: Download GSC reply to letter from Chris Roberts, Greenwich Council Leader

Greenwich protest 2The general sense is that of frustration and a degree of outrage. There's surely something wrong when so many children are calling on their council to think again. See these pictures, taken over the weekend at the Arches swimming centre, as proof of the strength of feeling.

The council's press office has refused to explain to the Standard how much the swimming pool will cost. See below for my questions and the response they got this morning...

Evening Standard (ES): How much is the Greenwich Centre costing?Greenwich cartoon

Royal Borogh of Greenwich (RBG): "Overall we are investing £30million in the new Greenwich Centre which is being delivered at zero-cost to the tax payer as it's being funded entirely by the disposal of Royal Borough of Greenwich assets. It’s part of the Royal Borough’s modernisation vision – about bringing services for residents under one roof in brand new facilities which are purpose built for modern life and significantly reduce costs for the Borough incurred by running and maintaining a number of older buildings."

ES: How much is the swimming pool (two pools) costing?

RBG: (Question not answered)

ES: Why is the pool being built with two shallow ends?

RBG: "The pool being planned for the Greenwich Centre can be used for competition standard swimming but not for diving training which takes place at the new Gala Pool at Eltham – and can also be facilitated at the Charlton Lido, due to reopen this summer.
The Greenwich Centre pools have three shallow ends which is the best kind of provision to encourage learners and more family use.
"We are confident that the provision across the Royal Borough strikes the right balance for users and we want the Greenwich Centre pools to be an inviting facility for the whole community which will encourage young families and people less confident in the water to take up and to enjoy swimming."

ES: You said other pools had been built like this - which ones?

RBG: (Question not answered)

ES: Can the plans be changed to increase the depth to 1.8m, the recommended standard, to make it safe for competitive swimming?

RBG: (Question not answered)

Greenwihc protest 3


Relaunch for Cutty Sark as Queen prepares to unveil £50m transformation

Cutty Sark 2
It is the ship that has literally risen from the ashes. In nine days' time, (April 25) the Queen will reopen the Cutty Sark after a £50 million conservation project that has saved the world's last-remaining tea clipper.

The 143-year-old Grade-I listed vessel, which was nearly destroyed by fire in 2007, has been raised 3.3 metres off the ground to allow visitors to walk underneath and witness the dramatic contours that made it the fastest merchant sailing ship of its era.

"It's rather like that moment when you see the blue whale floating above you in the Natural History Museum," said Richard Doughty, director of the Cutty Sark Trust. "I think everyone is going to want to have their picture taken 'holding the ship up' with their finger, in the same way they have their photo taken 'holding up' the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

"This is a world-class solution for a world-class ship in a World Heritage Site. This is going to be one of Lomdon's top attractions. People are going to want to come and see what we have achieved here."

The ship, which first set sail in 1869, has its bottom half encased in a stunning glass canopy, akin to the Great Court at the British Museum. This creates the pretence of it floating upon waves, and opens up a giant visitor space under the keel. The 280ft long hull has been restored in gold-coloured muntz metal, a copper and zinc alloy. The ship will be illuminated at night, creating a Thames landmark visible from across the river at Canary Wharf.

"It just looks fantastic," Mr Doughty said. "We have got this long, narrow hull with a very sharp cutting edge. This is the most significant thing about the Cutty Sark. That is what enabled her to achieve the speed. She could do 17.5 knots fully laden with cargo. That is why they are called clippers, because they could go at a clip. She could cover over 300 miles in a day at sea."

Cutty Sark made her name bringing tea from China and wool from Australia. One voyage from Sydney to London was completed in a then record 73 days. To mark the reopening, Twinings is producing two Cutty Sark teas that will be sold in the new cafe. A "choir" of 80 replica figureheads from merchant ships lost at sea, plus Cutty Sark's own original Nannie figurehead - from the Robert Burns' poem Tam O'Shanter that gave the ship her name - has been assembled under the bow.

Interactive displays will recreate life in 1869, when the ship first set sail, and tell of its long history. Sold to Portugal in 1895, it returned to British ownership in 1922 and was first unveiled at Greenwich by the Queen in 1957. It will be hired out for private functions, from weddings to banquets for 300 people, with the aim of generating sufficient income to build a fund for the ship's future conservation.

The long battle to preserve Cutty Sark began in earnest in 2001 after the Maritime Trust failed to win Lottery backing for a separate £5 million restoration project.

The Cutty Sark Trust devised a much more ambitious £25 million conservation-led project and set about raising funds. Work began in 2006 but was hit by two major crises - a fire in 2007 and the subsequent discovery that the ship's dry dock was rotting and needed to be rebuilt. The latter delayed the reopening by a year.Cutty Sark 1

The Heritage Lottery Fund agreed to increase its donation from £13 million to £25 million - the most given for a single project - while former P&O executive chairman Lord Sterling gathered donations from the great and good, such as Sammy Ofer and Alisher Usmanov, the Russian billionaire and Arsenal shareholder, who gave £3 million. 

Greenwich council leader Chris Roberts was instrumental in securing about £7 million of local authority finance after realising what a boost a reborn Cutty Sark would provide to London's new royal borough. Some 250,000 paying visitors a year are now anticipated. The ship will open to the public on April 26, the day after the Queen's visit. Adult tickets cost £12. Family tickets will cost £29.

The Duke of Edinburgh, who has supported Cutty Sark since 1951, when plans were launched to bring her to Greenwich, hosted dinners for supporters at Buckingham Palace, St James's Palace and Windsor Castle. 

Despite surrendering many patronages on his 90th birthday last year, Philip chose to remain president of the Cutty Sark Trust. "He has had a major role in this project," Mr Doughty said. "Most famously, he came the day after the fire. He was concerned at what had happened and what could be done to save the ship. He was also down just before the lift took place in May last year."

Surviving on-board features are clearly delineated, in white paint, from the new additions, which are painted grey. About 90 per cent of the hull has survived. Much of the deck was lost in the fire, while many teak timbers had to be restored. Some 24 iron struts link to 12 metal beams that support the superstructure of the ship, which had been collapsing in on itself as it sat rotting in the dry dock.

"This is a world first," Mr Doughty said. "There is nowhere else in the world you can walk underneath a sailing ship." The interior will smell of tea - it would typically carry enough tea leaves for 200 million cups of tea - while animations will recreate the sensation of the ship rocking on the ocean. "We want to assault the senses when you come in," Mr Doughty said.

The Queen will reopen the ship from the monkey fo'c's'le deck beside the bow, from which the full "wow factor" of its new elevated position can be appreciated - overlooking the Thames and a new public square being built by Greenwich council. Up to 300 workers a day have been working round he clock for the last six weeks to get Cutty Sark ready in time for the royal unveiling.

"Overwhelmingly, the ship has been saved by the public," Mr Doughty said. "They have done it because they have bought into the vision we had for the ship.

"We had huge numbers of donations being given after the fire, including postal orders, cheques from pensioners and children's pocket money. I still get choked by it.

"I'm really, really proud to have got to this stage. We have made compromises as we have gone along but the burning ambition we had to raise this ship, to conserve her and ensure she can stick around for the next 50 years, has been realised."

04 April 2012 10:26 AM

Pippa and Lupo set to join Wills and Kate at Madame Tussauds

Pippa Middleton and royal puppy Lupo are set to follow the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge as new exhibits at Madame Tussauds.

Sculptor Stephen Mansfield told me this morning that people had already been asking about adding William and Kate's black cocker spaniel puppy to their collection.Lupo the royal puppy

Mr Mansfield, who designed the first William waxwork in 2003, said: “Somebody asked about the dog the other day, almost jokingly. We did say we couldn’t rule it out. We have done animals before, including the Andrex puppy.”

He added: "In terms of Pippa Middleton, it will be the same criteria as any figure coming in here. If we get enough people saying we would like to see her in here, it would be daft not to respond."

The waxworks of William and Kate that were unveiled today show them in a famous pose from the day in November 2010 when they publicly announced their engagement - William had proposed in Kenya on October 20 - and posed for cameras at St James’s Palace.

Kate is wearing a blue Issa dress, while William is in a navy Gieves and Hawkes suit, with a replica Omega Seamaster watch on his wrist. A copy of Kate’s engagement ring - the sapphire and diamond ring that once belonged to Diana, Princess of Wales - is discreetly out of sight behind a black clutch bag in her left hand.

Sculptors were required to work from photographs, TV footage and measurements provided by St James’s Palace after William and Kate were unable to find time for a joint sitting.

Wills + Kate at Madame TussaudsEach model cost £150,000 and sculptor Louis Wiltshire it had taken five weeks to sculpt Kate’s head. Each strand of her brown hair was inserted by hand. “We are trying not to produce a portrait that is a simple likeness,” he said. “We want it to convey something.”

Madame Tussauds expects the couple to oust the Queen from first place on the list of famous people that visitors want to be pictured alongside. The 23rd version of the Queen will be unveiled next month to mark her diamond jubilee. William and Kate will be positioned alongside the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh, with Diana and Prince Harry nearby.

Royal watchers, who were the first to see the statues this morning, questioned whether sculptors had made William too tall and had been over-generous with his now-thinning hair. Madame Tussauds said the couple were “kept closely informed... at every stage of the creation process”.

Mr Mansfield said: “We worked very hard to make sure we got every detail. I think you can say she is one of those people who is very difficult to improve on nature. She is lovely and we reflected that.”

He added: “Doing any figure that is smiling is difficult. What you have to do is not only get the smile in terms of the physiognomy, you have got to get that smile and the eyes and the twinkle. I think it has a little sparkle about it.”

Three other William and Kate waxworks are also going on show. Madame Tussauds New York will show her in a replica Alexander McQueen gown worn at a Bafta event in Hollywood, the Amsterdam branch has her in the Alice Temperley dress worn to the War Horse premiere and, from April 18, the Blackpool branch has Kate in the Jenny Packham dress from last year’s ARK charity dinner at Kensington Palace.

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03 April 2012 11:28 AM

Cyclist turns detective after police fail to investigate bike theft

A cyclist was forced to turn detective to trace his stolen bike after police said they were too busy to investigate.

Marc Cutler, 35, found his bike on Gumtree after it was stolen from Columbia Road flower market and, helped by two friends, Dan Mash and Elliot Frankal, confronted the man trying to sell it after setting up a late-night “sting” operation.Marc Cutler (centre) and friends with his recovered bike

He refused to let go of the bike in a “mini tug-of-war” and called 999 – but was forced to wait 80 minutes until police finally turned up and threatened to arrest the seller.

Mr Cutler, a public relations executive, said: “It amazes me that the only way to get something back is by doing everything myself and putting myself and my friends in potential harm’s way.

“As far as we were concerned, we were meeting a criminal. We didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Mr Culter, who lives in Islington, had been at the market earlier this month with his girlfriend Manna and secured his £500 Charge single-speed bike, which he had bought only three weeks earlier, with two locks. But when he returned after lunch, the bike was gone. “I was just devastated,” he said. “I was using it every day to cycle to work and I wasn’t prepared to give up on it.”

He reported the crime by phone but, after being told he could have to wait 72 hours to hear from a police officer, scoured Brick Lane market’s second-hand bike stalls and began searching auction websites for his bike. Late the following evening, he spotted it on Gumtree on sale for £250.

He phoned the police to report the sighting but was told it would take several days for officers to respond. He went to Shoreditch station to speed-up the process and was later told by a CID officer at Bethnal Green that police didn’t have the resources to help. The officer said his unofficial advice was for Mr Cutler to meet the seller and call 999 if it was his bike.

Posing as a prospective buyer, Mr Cutler arranged to meet the seller at Bounds Green Tube the following evening. But the Russian man selling the bike refused to surrender it despite Mr Cutler having proof of its serial number and a receipt, and only walked off when two police arrived and threatened to arrest him for handling stolen goods.

Boris Johnson set up a 30-strong police cycle taskforce to target bike crime in 2010, but Mr Cutler said officers were unaware of its existence – and found the squad to be away on training when they tried to make contact.

Mr Cutler added: “The CID officer the next day called to congratulate me on getting my bike back. He said I’m sorry there was nothing we could do, but I’m happy for you.”

02 April 2012 11:46 AM

London businessman unveils £125,000 diamond jubilee coin

Diamond jubilee coin

A London entrepreneur has created the world’s most expensive diamond jubilee souvenir - a £125,000 gold coin featuring the Queen wearing a crown of diamonds.

Sanjiv Mehta, the Indian-born chief executive of the East India Company, commissioned the Royal Mint to make 60 of the 1kg coins - each for a year of the Queen’s reign - to mark India’s reputation as the jewel in the crown of the former British empire. It will also make 60 identical coins in silver, each of which will cost £25,000.

Mr Mehta, a gemologist who lives in Harrow-on-the-Hill, said: “This is probably the most expensive 1kg coin you can ever see, because it is studded with diamonds.

“We have done it because we want to create a beautiful product. Who else could do something like this? Which other legal entity could be deemed as the footprint of the empire?”

He acquired the East India Company, which was given the right to mint its own currency 300 years ago, in 2005 and has developed it into a luxury brand, with a fine foods store in Conduit Street, Mayfair.

Each of the coins took craftsmen at the Royal Mint 1,000 hours to complete, with around 100 diamonds being set into each coin. The East India Company was granted a royal charter by Elizabeth I in 1600 and exported spices, tea and coffee. At its peak in the early 1800s it employed one in three Britons and controlled half of the British Empire’s trade.

Mr Mehta said he wanted the coins to be a “timeless tribute” to the Queen on her diamond jubilee. “This is a big occasion and nothing has happened since 1953 [her coronation] of this magnitude,” he said.

“It’s about a lady who has served the nation for many years. The respect for the monarchy comes from her behaviour. She has lived a life which has a lot of morality to it. Indians have a lot of respect for that.”

He added: “I’m motivated by the fact that, being an Indian, it’s nice to own the company that once owned us. If there was no East India Company founded by Elizabeth I, then we may have been speaking in French and not drinking tea. London would not have been a global capital and there probably would not be a Commonwealth.”

28 March 2012 3:21 PM

Full steam ahead for Myleene and Hyde Park diamond jubilee concerts

Myleene Klass and pirates on the Serpentine

Myleene Klass today launched a ballot for thousands of  free tickets for the Hyde Park family festival being staged as part of the Queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations.

The singer and TV presenter was joined by fellow host, impressionist Jon Culshaw, as she was “kidnapped” by young pirates on the Serpentine lake (above). A spectacular 70-minute “Magic of Disney in Concert” – the first production outside of its theme parks – will be the highlight of the shows on June 2 and 3, which are expected to attract 50,000 a day.

Around half the tickets – normally £52 for a family of four - are being offered free to Sainsbury’s customers who are able to enter a ballot by spending at least £60 in store. Other highlights include an adaptation of the War Horse theatre production and the first-ever festival performance of Strictly Come Dancing.

Jon Culshaw said: “This unique event has more faces than I do and will be a brilliant way of keeping the family entertained in London for the Jubilee festivities.”

The Sainsbury’s ballot is open until April 21. Details at Tickets are also still available for purchase from and