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Knives Out As Celebrity UK Glossies Go Head to Head

Giles Elgood

LONDON (Reuters) - On the surface, they portray a perfect world of glamour and romance.

Underneath, Britain's rival celebrity weeklies, Hello! and OK!, are sworn rivals who will stop at little to best each other in a bitterly competitive magazine market.

On Friday, Hello! was savoring an important court victory over OK! which allowed it to publish a series of blurred snaps taken surreptitiously at the glitzy New York wedding of Hollywood stars Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones.

OK!, which paid the couple $1.4 million for the exclusive rights to the happy event, was distinctly upset when an appeal judge in London overturned an injunction that could have forced Hello! to pulp its 755,900 print run.

``We are very disappointed with the outcome,'' a spokesman for OK! said after Thursday evening's ruling. Hello!, not surprisingly, was ``delighted.''

Since OK! was launched seven years ago by porn publisher Richard Desmond, it has had Hello! in its sights.

When OK! paid one million pounds for the wedding of Spice Girls star Victoria Adams and soccer hero David Beckham, its circulation pulled ahead of Hello! for the first time.

Official figures show that in the first six months of this year, Hello!, which is owned by the Spanish Hola publishing concern, clawed back its lead, with an average circulation of 458,663 compared to 455,162 for its rival.

Those who can make the distinction describe Hello! as being slightly more up-market than OK!

Desmond this week bought the ailing Daily and Sunday Express newspapers for about $175 million and media analysts are already forecasting ``synergy'' between OK! and its new stablemates.

Desmond's ``adult'' publications, such as Asian Babes, Big Ones and Nude Readers' Wives, are thought to have more in common with the raunchy Daily Star, which the media magnate also acquired as part of the deal.

Desmond has been described as ``the man for whom the age of the celebrity was invented.''

But if he plans to put OK!'s wall-to-wall celebrity coverage in a daily newspaper, Andy Warhol's dictum that everybody will be famous for 15 minutes may turn out to be an overestimate.

An appearance in Hello! or OK! is not all plain sailing however, with many celebrity relationships hitting the rocks immediately after the couple have professed undying love in an extensive photo-spread sold to one of the magazines.

Before OK! came on the scene, this used to be known as the ''curse of Hello!,'' but now it extends to both titles.

Jerry Hall once confided to OK! that Mick Jagger was a ``great father.'' It soon emerged that he had fathered a child by Brazilian model Luciana Morad and the following year, 1999, Hall and Jagger separated.

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Copyright 2000 Reuters Limited. Click for Restrictions.

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