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Granny tag on stars

London, May 21: Having famously dismissed modern art as “conceptual bullshit”, Britain’s tourism minister yesterday turned his ire on American film stars, claiming they didn’t have the “balls” to fly across the Atlantic.

Kim Howells poured scorn on Hollywood’s tough-guy heroes for failing to set an example to travellers. He claimed they were more frightened about terrorism than New York’s globe-trotting “grannies”.

“These people portray themselves as great action heroes... one would assume they would have the balls to do a simple thing like... fly to Europe and set an example for the rest of the nation,” he told the Financial Times.

“Swashbuckling heroes like Tom Cruise”, who should be setting an example to their fellow Americans, were more frightened than “grannies from New York”, he added.

Howells’ extraordinary criticism came amid fears that some American stars would avoid the Cannes Film Festival because of terrorism. Work commitments have kept Cruise away, although Arnold Schwarzenegger flew to the festival last week.

A spokesman for Cruise said the star had been on location for his next film The Last Samurai and added: “He didn’t travel to Cannes because he was filming on location in New Zealand.” His girlfriend Penelope Cruz did attend the festival to promote her new film, Fanfan La Tulipe.

Howells also said the absence of American visitors was hitting the British tourism industry. Last night, he flew to America for a six-day tour to promote tourism in this country.

The tourism minister, whose responsibilities also include film and music, has one of the sharpest tongues in Westminster. He incensed the art world last year when he called the Turner Prize exhibits “bullshit”.

“If this is the best British artists can produce then British art is lost. It is cold, mechanical conceptual bullshit.”

He was later congratulated by Downing Street, who told him to expand on his criticisms and “keep it up”. Howells did so and earlier this year said the time had come to stand up to the “idiots” of rap culture.

He also described the royal family as “all a bit bonkers”.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Kim Howells is an excellent minister who is travelling to the States to bang the drum for British tourism.

“In relation to the comments, I think you can’t criticise ministers on the one hand for being programmed automatons and on the other take issue if they say things that are perhaps a bit more interesting than usual.”

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