Dinner with the Queen before global issues appear on the menu

THE eight world leaders gathered at Gleneagles to address African poverty sat down to a sumptuous dinner with the Queen last night, starting the most eagerly awaited G8 summit for years.

Negotiations begin today on aid to Africa and a new deal for climate change - with Tony Blair predicting the summit will end in agreement on both agendas.

But attention was focused on ceremony last night, as the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh hosted a banquet in the hotel's Strathearn Restaurant.

Jacques Chirac, the president of France, was last to arrive - joining leaders for a dinner of Scottish fare just days after being overheard dismissing British food as the worst in Europe, after Finland.

He had flown straight from Singapore, having learned en route that Paris had been beaten to the 2012 Olympics by London. But he seemed in good spirits and congratulated London through a fixed smile.

The menu for last night's banquet was devised by Andrew Fairlie, Scotland's chef of the year. It was unashamedly Scottish, with Marrbury smoked salmon and roasted langoustines to start, followed by roast Glenearn lamb.

Mr Blair, who was being personally credited with the London Olympics win, was magnanimous - making only a slight dig at Mr Chirac. "I don't think haggis is on the menu," he said. The French president's diatribe against British food had included mention of an "unappetising" Scottish dish.

Jack McConnell and his wife, Bridget, were surprise inclusions for the Queen's dinner.

Apart from the leaders' spouses and Mr Barroso, the First Minister was the only guest who was not a head of state. The Queen, who is fluent in French, sat next to Mr Chirac.

Mr McConnell spent most of the day at Prestwick airport, welcoming G8 leaders. He had left by Mr Chirac's arrival but the two held talks last night, described by aides as an "auld alliance summit" and focusing on cultural exchange.

The First Minister said he would set Mr Chirac straight about haggis if the subject arose.

"If he asks I will tell him it is one of the best delicacies Scotland can offer," he said.

At the airport, the First Minister reserved his warmest welcome for George Bush, the US president, who stepped off Air Force One at 2:40pm saying he was disappointed that New York had lost the Olympic bid, but was "thrilled" for London.

The Lowland Band played Hail to the Chief as Mr Bush and his wife, Laura, walked down the steps from his aircraft. Schoolchildren from Ayrshire and Glasgow were lined up next to the red carpet, singing "happy birthday" to Mr Bush, much to his delight. The president turned 59 yesterday.

Nicol Stephen, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, carried out his first official duty in his new role as deputy first minister, introducing Mr Chirac to the dignitaries lined up in Prestwick.

Gerhard Schrder, the German chancellor, arrived with a present for the children who greeted him: bags of footballs to celebrate Germany hosting the World Cup next year.

Helicopters flew over the protesters to take the heads of government to the Gleneagles Hotel - where the aristocracy of the rock world were at large. Bob Geldof and Bono were striding around the complex with as much authority as world leaders, and with entourages to match. In a joint press conference with Mr Blair, Mr Geldof said he did not accept warnings from Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, that the G8 summit may disappoint by failing to deliver African aid requested by the Commission for Africa.

"We have come with a clear mandate from over three billion people," said Mr Geldof, referring to the estimated audience for the Live 8 concerts on television last weekend.

During a joint press briefing, the famously scruffy star took delight in needling Mr Blair for his "golfing outfit" - beige chinos, a navy blazer and the London Olympic bid tie. "The Prime Minster goes into these negotiations with the biggest democratic mandate ever assembled on one single issue in history. Not to get poverty stopped would be a terrible, terrible human failure," said Mr Geldof.

Mr Blair pledged to "push the whole way" for his deals. "Do you ever get everything you want? No. But you can change the terms of debate for Africa."

Bono and Geldof appeared to have been given the run of the hotel. They were also seen cornering Mr Schrder and later Paul Martin, the prime minister of Canada, was buttonholed by the campaigners.

Bono joined Mr Martin in a press conference and harangued him for his refusal to sign up Canada to the United Nations target of donating 0.7 per cent of its national income to aid. His refusal, said the Irish rock star, was "frustrating and annoying and infuriating".

Bono and Mr Geldof also had a sit-down audience with President Bush and his wife Laura in one of the hotel's suites.

While some observers say climate change is set to be the most difficult aspect of the summit, many British officials are much more confident of a significant deal on Africa.

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