Charity joins with glamour as Branson flies in stars

SIR Richard Branson flew into Edinburgh with a mix of pop stars, charity workers and protesters yesterday, ahead of the Long Walk to Justice and the Live 8 concert at Murrayfield.

The entrepreneur, who touched down in a Virgin Atlantic 747, immediately brought his trademark informality to an airport press conference - forcing the First Minister, Jack McConnell, into removing his tie.

Among those on the plane were the musician Midge Ure, singer Natalie Imbruglia and comedian Eddie Izzard, along with 150 US demonstrators and representatives of 70 worldwide charities.

Concern has been expressed that tomorrow night's Live 8 anti-poverty concert is the only major organised event in Edinburgh for the large numbers expected to answer Bob Geldof's call to gather in the city. Ure, 51, said his main job was organising the running order for the 42,000-ticket show at Murrayfield, but claimed there were "a variety of things happening in Edinburgh".

He said: "Edinburgh is a big place, Glasgow is only around the corner, it's not that far away. Scotland has got enough interesting stuff to keep people entertained until Wednesday."

Ure again distanced himself from Geldof's call for one million people to descend on Edinburgh.

He said: "I will not say the number that Bob said - I have never said the number Bob said. But the fact that 220,000 people walked through Princes Street the other day with one arrest was amazing.

"Those people aren't going to go away, they want to be there when the G8 leaders come here on Wednesday, they want to see the concert, they want to be part of this."

Mr McConnell added: "It is important to now keep the momentum going so the leaders that come here this week hear the message that people want them to hear.

"We don't need further large events to do that, apart from obviously the concert on Wednesday night."

Leaflets being handed out by the organisers of the Long Walk to Justice detail just six suggested activities for those visiting the city to support the G8 protests.

They include going to the UGC Cinema to watch the recent BBC drama The Girl in the Caf, which deals with a fictional love story set around G8, visiting Cramond tomorrow to watch a symbolic "flame of hope" being lit, posting a photo on the railings in Princes Street or going to the City Arts Centre to send a protest card to G8 leaders.

The leaflet also promotes a concert featuring Natalie Imbruglia and R&B singer Estelle being held tonight at Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre.

Sir Richard cited Imbruglia's show as one example of a set-piece event in the city.

The Virgin tycoon said the aim of yesterday's flight from London was to "bring all the charity workers who will make an enormous difference in Africa if the G8 can write out a cheque for something like $50 billion".

Those arriving are part of the Global Call to Action against Poverty, the international coalition of charities of which Make Poverty History is the UK arm.

Rail companies and motoring organisations yesterday said levels of traffic were normal for the time of year and there was no sign of a late rush of protesters to Edinburgh.

But the bus firm National Express said advance bookings for this week were higher than usual. The company said it had sold more tickets for Sunday, yesterday and today than last Friday and Saturday for those travelling to the Make Poverty History march.

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