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Liz Hurley to front fairytale festivities

The resemblance between the fairy-tale ugly duckling, relentlessly bullied for his appearance, and Elizabeth Hurley, designer-clad actress and a face of Estee Lauder, the cosmetics giant, is not obvious. Nor is the connection between the little mermaid, who dreamed of having feet, and Pele, the Brazilian footballer famous for his fancy footwork.

But both are to be among the international celebrities representing Danish-born writer Hans Christian Andersen, author of fairy tales such as The Ugly Duckling, The Little Mermaid and The Emperor's New Clothes.

Next year marks the bicentenary of Andersen's birth, on April 2, 1805.

Events will range from the bizarre to the tenuous. A samba school in Rio, for example, is to be sponsored in Andersen's name. And Copenhagen airport will display a trunk once believed to have been used by the author.

In Britain, an initiative aimed at teachers will encourage them to incorporate Andersen's tales into the curriculum. A competition will invite primary pupils to write their own fairy tales: the prize is a trip to Denmark for the anniversary celebrations.

For the Danes, the events provide a chance to overcome the sentimental, comedic image of Andersen protrayed by Danny Kaye in the eponymous 1952 film.

Jakob Steen Olsen, programme co-ordinator for the bicentenary, said:

"People have a picture of Andersen as a pied-piper figure, but he's more sophisticated: he knows so much about what it means to be human."

Each country involved will nominate celebrity ambassadors, intended to personify the spirit of the author. International ambassadors include Pele and US actress Susan Sarandon. Britain will be represented by comedian Sandi Toksvig, actor Derek Jacobi and Ms Hurley.

Andrew Ward, who is promoting the bicentenary in Britain, does not believe that it is incongruous for an actress best known for her strategically placed safety-pins to represent a children's author. He said: "High-profile celebrities bring people on board who might not otherwise be interested.

Liz Hurley is an educated, well-read young woman. This will bring out a side of her personality people don't normally see."

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