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Polls guru Sir Lynton Crosby avoids Goldsmith campaign questions at investiture

The Conservatives' election strategist, Sir Lynton Crosby, dodged questions about Zac Goldsmith's London mayoral campaign as he received a knighthood from the Prince of Wales at Buckingham Palace.

Mr Goldsmith's campaign, run by Sir Lynton's communications firm CTF Comms, has come under fire from Labour and even from within the Tory Party for its negative campaigning and focus on opponent Sadiq Khan's Muslim heritage.

Mr Goldsmith's attempt to succeed Boris Johnson looked to have come unstuck as polls in recent days put Mr Khan well in the lead, with the results due late on Friday.

Sir Lynton, who masterminded both of Mr Johnson's campaigns and was David Cameron's general election campaign director, refused to comment after receiving his knighthood for political service on whether Mr Goldsmith's campaign had been too negative.

Instead he said in a written statement: "I am truly honoured to receive this award in recognition of my service to politics in the UK and especially proud that my family can rightly share in and enjoy the recognition.

"It is also recognition for the thousands of candidates, campaign staff, activists, volunteers and my company's professional colleagues who I've had the great fortune to work alongside in the UK - across elections over the past decade.

"It is their hard work and commitment in fighting for a cause they believe in and unfailing faith in focusing on the people that matter - the voting public - that have contributed to the achievement of politics and campaign successes."

Also receiving honours was snooker supremo Ronnie O'Sullivan, who said it was "surreal" to be at the Palace and one of the best moments of his career.

Despite his nerves, O'Sullivan, nicknamed the "Rocket", said Charles made him feel so at ease that at first he forgot to address him as "Sir".

He said: "Winning world titles is great - and don't get me wrong, they are special moments - but I didn't expect to feel how I feel."

O'Sullivan, 40, was accompanied to the Palace by his mother, Maria O'Sullivan, and girlfriend, actress Laila Rouass, as he received his OBE for services to snooker.

The honour may help soothe the heartache of being knocked out of the World Championships at the Crucible in Sheffield by Barry Hawkins last week.

Looking back, he said: "I couldn't really have done any more and I felt like I was playing probably well enough to win it. I just probably was lacking a bit of match practice - I was probably a bit ring-rusty.

"If there's an excuse to be had, that was probably it - not that I make excuses because credit to the guy that beat me and credit to the guy who won."

O'Sullivan said he was in the perfect mindset at the tournament but was unsure of how to win the tactical frames if he did not take them in one visit to the table, that he felt like "a boxer getting beat to the punch every time in the crucial tight games".

And he suggested he might vary his approach next year, playing more tournaments than exhibition games to get himself ready.

But the unexpected loss has not knocked him, and he hopes to have another decade at the top of the game.

"I won't beat myself up, I look forward to the next season and the next World Championships," he said.

"If anything the standard now, a lot of the older players are doing better now than they used to, so hopefully I have got another 10 good years."

And with the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro looming, O'Sullivan said "it would be nice" for snooker to play a part in future.

He added: "I think the game is in good hands and there's a lot of good players coming through playing attractive snooker, and I just hope that I can be part of it."

Actress Sian Phillips was made a dame in recognition of a body of work across stage, television and silver screen that has spanned six decades.

The Welsh star was married to Peter O'Toole and has performed in everything from Ibsen to The Archers and an adaptation of John le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, opposite Sir Alec Guinness.

Now 82, her appetite for work appears little diminished and she is currently performing at the National Theatre in Lorraine Hansberry's play Les Blancs.

Speaking after receiving her honour, Dame Sian said nerves had woken her at 5.30am but that it had been a "terribly enjoyable" day.

She said: "I did think I would be working when I was really quite old but I don't think I ever thought I would be here in Buckingham Palace."

Dame Sian discovered a determination to act at the age of six, and despite having a career that has lasted almost 60 years, admitted to still feeling butterflies when stepping out on stage.

She said: "I don't think it ever, ever changes. You never stop feeling nervous, you never stop feeling excited.

"Obviously I have got used to it. You learn to live with the fears, and the enjoyable things go on as they did."

Dame Sian suggested that despite sporadic concerns, British theatre is still strong, saying: "The patient never quite dies, ever - the patient is always critical. People are always worried about theatre, the arts in general, but they survive."

And she said she was very proud to be part of the current theatre scene and working at the National, saying: "It is my favourite place in the world to play, so I'm having a really good time."

Dame Sian also said it was "expected" that talented young actors would go into TV and film early in their careers now, rather than serving an apprenticeship in the theatre.

She said: "Times change and that's expected nowadays. The clever ones manage to get through. A lot of people fall by the wayside because they don't have a chance to do enough practising, but there are always young people who do practise very hard and they always get through."

She added: "The rewards are very, very different, and why shouldn't they take advantage of the change in times? You just have to muddle your way through, I think."


From Belfast Telegraph