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Books of the famous to fight disease

Shirley Bassey chose a tale of female ego and thwarted love. Former Spice Girl Melanie C opted for a biography of 1960s diva Dusty Springfield. And Peter Stringfellow selected a book about... Peter Stringfellow.

These are the favourite books donated by celebrities for an auction to raise money for the anti-leprosy charity Lepra.

More than 100 celebrities have donated signed books that have been influential in their lives. They range from childhood favourites such as Heidi from Carol Vorderman, the ubiquitous TV presenter, to the Dostoevsky classic The Brothers Karamazov chosen by comic Billy Connolly.

For some, including the nightclub impresario Peter Stringfellow, the best gift they could offer was an autographed copy of their own memoirs.

Lizzie Dearling, funding officer for Lepra, said: "We wanted something personal - and books that people have had on their shelves or taken on holiday are very personal. It indicates what they're interested in."

Other celebrated figures have donated valuable collectors' items.

Feather-clad diva Shirley Bassey contributed a 1937 copy of Gone With The Wind, while comedian Ronnie Barker sent a 1914 copy of Alice in Wonderland.

"It will be interesting to see which raises more money, older books or books from more famous celebrities," said Ms Dearling.

"For example, Kate Winslet sent in a Delia Smith cookery book. It will probably sell very well, even though you can pick it up in any bookshop."

All the books will be auctioned on the website eBay.

Lepra hopes to raise around pound;10,000, which will be spent on the battle against leprosy in Asia, Africa and South America.

Such auctions offer a rare opportunity for celebrities to talk about what they are reading, and what a particular book means to them. Singer Phil Collins, who donated Writing Home, by Alan Bennett, said: "These memoirs make me laugh out loud, and at the same time conjure up days of simplicity, when the world was a less cynical place."

Jim Sells, of the National Literacy Trust, believes that auctions can also be an effective means of encouraging reluctant readers to pick up a book.

He said: "People are besotted with celebrity, and with the idea that they can follow in the footsteps of a hero by emulating them.

"It helps to have someone in the public eye who is proud to say, 'I am a reader, reading is a way of relaxing for me'."

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