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Charity poppy symbol reinvented

By Kevin Rawlinson

The plain paper poppy risks becoming an endangered species. Flowers crafted from crystals and with a price-tag to match are being picked off by style-conscious supporters of the Poppy Appeal after they were seen glinting under the studio lights during last weekend's X Factor shows.

Cheryl Cole and Danni Minogue sported crystal-encrusted poppies made by Kleshna on Saturday night's ITV broadcast. The London-based jewellers said half the sales of their premium poppy brooches followed the high-profile endorsement.

The Royal British Legion distributes more 40 million paper poppies each year, which can be exchanged for a donation of one pound. A "pimped" poppy will cost considerably more. Kleshan sells a hand-embroidered flower with "vibrant Swarovski crystals on a knotted fabric base, anchored with a beautiful jewel-faceted jet-coloured button" for £85. A relatively modest £50 model comes with enamel petals inlaid with crystals.

A rival jeweller and former supplier to X Factor judges, Clare Yarwood-White has produced a bespoke poppy for Sharon Osbourne that later sold at auction for £2,850, which was donated to the Legion. Other designers have turned their hands to producing premium poppies in the past few years: Dame Helen Mirren wore a Theo Fennell design on BBC's The One Show in 2008, while Dannii Minogue has also been seen sporting an Alex Monroe brooch.

Ms Yarwood-Smith, who has pinned bespoke flowers to a host of prominent lapels, said there was also a trend among wearers perhaps less prepared to distract attention from their outfits to wear poppies as bracelets or hairclips.

The Royal British Legion (RBL), which runs the Poppy Appeal each year in a bid to raise funds for veterans, said it was delighted by the rise of the jewel-encrusted flowers. A spokesman said: "The majority of people will still be seen wearing the traditional paper versions but a movement towards customised poppies has grown over the last few years."

The Poppy Appeal dates to just after the end of the Great War and has its roots in the Canadian medic John McCrae's 1915 poem "In Flanders Fields". McCrae was killed in the final year of the First World War and the poppy, being the only thing which continued to grow amid the devastation on the Western front, became synonymous with the conflict.

An American war secretary, Moina Michael – inspired by John McCrae's poem – began selling poppies to friends to raise money for the ex-service community. The first official Legion Poppy Day was held on 11 November 1921.

Big names have not always been so keen to wear poppies. In 2006, the Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow refused to wear a Remembrance Day flower on air in protest at "poppy fascism". He wrote on his blog: "I am begged to wear an Aids ribbon, a breast cancer ribbon, a Marie Curie flower... You name it, from the Red Cross to the RNIB, they send me stuff to wear to raise awareness, and I don't. And in those terms, and those terms alone, I do not and will not wear a poppy.

This year, the RBL hopes more enthusiastic poppy wearers will help it to reach a fundraising target of £36m. A spokesman added: "As always, it is important to say that the Legion believes that wearing a poppy is a personal choice.

"We are grateful to everyone who wears a poppy, including those in the public eye, and encourage everyone to support us at this important time of year."

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