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Artbeat

Mario Testino is used to beautiful people: Kate Moss is his favourite subject, Diana (relaxed and happy) and Madonna (diva, mother or in Evita-style) made him famous. His photographs exude gloss, glamour, luxury and the sort of lifestyle more familiar in the pages of Hello! magazine than the average staffroom.

There's something just a bit irritating about all this glitz. Could it be jealousy? Possibly. But let's give ourselves the benefit of the doubt - it may be that the blurring of fashion, celebrity portraiture and art is a bit difficult to take.

The party to launch Mario Testino: Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery gathered together more magazine cover faces than any other so far this year. Testino is himself a celebrity and, presumably, if you are a famous person and want to maintain your glamorous image, he's a prime contact. He makes the ordinarily gorgeous look beyond-all-competition gorgeous. Unsurprisingly, no one mentioned "warts and all", character lines or cellulite at the press view of his show, but photographers were falling over themselves to snap the "cute" (Gwyneth Paltrow's word) snapper.

If you or your students want to follow in the master's footsteps, here are a few tips. Persevere. The young Testino was so persistent that fashion editors would dive behind rails of clothes until he had been fobbed off, but he never doubted that he was the coming thing. Get to know the work of classic photographers. Cecil Beaton was a significant influence. Testino used to cross the river from his squat to visit the National Portrait Gallery (further proof of the importance of free entry to galleries and museums) and look at favourite examples of his work. Remember the importance of shoes - models are never allowed to take them off ("It shows in the face") whereas Diana was asked to remove hers to achieve that famous suggestion of intimacy, although her feet never appear in the pictures, originally published in Vanity Fair in 1997. Take care with smiles. "It is difficult to get a perfect smile," says the master, "without lines or too much gum." Be curious. Testino reckons his success lies in the way people respond to him and that is because he wants to know all about them.

Whinges aside, if you like brilliant celebrity pictures, you'll enjoy this exhibition - Paltrow looking like Princess Grace, down to the long white gloves; Prince Charles among the chickens; Robbie Williams with his cheeky briefs. There will be events to accompany the exhibition next month.

Meanwhile, Saving Faces: portraits by Mark Gilbert, opening on February 27, may provide a suitable antidote. The respected portrait painter has combined with surgeon Ian Hutchinson to consider the effects of restructuring damaged faces. And later in the year, between May 15 and August 25, Beatrix Potter to Harry Potter: portraits of children's writers will feature busts, portraits and drawings of favourite authors from Kenneth Grahame to J K Rowling. NPG information: 020 7306 0053; www.npg.org.uk Music for Youth's Regional Festival series - the 32nd - is about to roar into action all over Britain, supported by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. Between February 23, in Brighton, and March 27, in Swansea, 40,000 instrumentalists and singers aged from two to 21 will appear in 53 events in 42 venues from Birmingham to Woking, Portsmouth to Carlisle.

Groups taking part will receive verbal and written assessments and some 280 of them - orchestras, duos, gamelan players, choirs, jazz and rock groups - will be invited to attend the week-long National Festival at the South Bank Centre in London in July. On July 4, a Rock and Pop Day will be held in association with Rockschool, culminating in a concert in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, and, on July 2, there will be a training course for choral teachers and conductors, Singposium 2002. And the Schools Prom will again explode into the Royal Albert Hall, November 4-6. Music for Youth: 020 8870 9624, www.mfy.org.uk The role of the arts in the criminal justice system will be the subject of The Anne Peaker Debate - In Search of Cultural Citizenship run by Clean Break Theatre Company and the Unit for the Arts and Offenders at the Theatre Museum in London on February 11 at 2pm. Participants include Martin Stephenson of the Youth Justice Board; Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust; and Deborah Bull from the Royal Opera House. Tickets need to be reserved: 020 7482 8600.

Clean Break (the theatre group for women with experience of the criminal justice system) has a festival of performances and workshops from February 11-17, mainly at its studios in north London. It has commissioned writers to take part in a talk, chaired by Janet Suzman, on February 14.

If anyone needed proof of the power of theatre inside and outside prison, The Island, performed by John Kani and Winston Ntshona (written by them in collaboration with Athol Fugard in 1973) can be seen, as powerful as ever, at the Old Vic in London. Two prisoners, incarcerated on Robben Island under the apartheid regime in South Africa, find freedom of expression in acting the story of Antigone for fellow inmates. This is funny and moving, and still speaks for oppressed people everywhere. Tickets: 020 7928 7616.

Heather Neill

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