Cardinal in fine voice for hippopotamus song

THE leader of Scotland's Roman Catholics took to the stage for a rather unusual Edinburgh Fringe first yesterday with a fearless rendition of a song about a hippo.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who has been rehearsing for several weeks, took centre stage at St Mary's Metropolitan Cathedral to give a performance of the piece which includes the chorus "mud, mud, glorious mud".

The cardinal, whose singing style has been described as a mixture of "enthusiastic" and "determined", sang Flanders and Swann's The Hippopotamus Song accompanied by amateur musicians proud of being members of The Really Terrible Orchestra.

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Speaking before the concert, held to celebrate the 25th anniversary of O'Brien's ordination as a bishop, he said: "I hope my singing with the Really Terrible Orchestra will be up to their usual standards and think it might even exceed them."

The orchestra was founded 15 years ago by Alexander McCall Smith, author of the No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series of novels. McCall Smith, who normally plays the contrabassoon, performed and spoke at the concert, which was conducted by the orchestra's Sir Richard Neville-Towle.

The RTO has a history of guest soloists. They have included a Royal Air Force wing commander, a judge and Major General Euan Loudon, chief executive of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Loudon sang I am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General, from Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance.

Earlier this week, singing star Susan Boyle of Britain's Got Talent fame revealed O'Brien, president of the Scottish bishops' conference, had asked her to sing at the mass to be attended by Pope Benedict XVI at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow on 16 September.