Keith's big problem
by David Owen
Keith Vaz faces an elephant-sized headache as he tries to organise the country's first ever Mango festival – in two weeks' time.
The Leicester East MP wants Belgrave's Golden Mile to stage an extravaganza in tribute to the national fruit of India over the early May bank holiday weekend, mimicking the famous International Mango Festival held in Delhi every June.
So far he has not finalised any of the details of the festival, such as what events would take place as part of it.
However, he has arranged the delivery of six giant wooden elephants to Leicester, which would form a key part of the festival.
Now he has just days to find somewhere suitable to display and store the ornately-decorated beasts, which are on their way to the UK from the Indian subcontinent.
Mr Vaz said: "I was approached by people working for the regional government of Maharashtra, in Mumbai, who said they wanted to organise a Mango festival in the UK.
"They have organised a festival in Trafalgar Square and I said 'if you're coming to England you've got to come to Leicester!' They said it was a great idea.
"It would be wonderful to have the focus of the festival in Belgrave and a way of promoting all the fantastic green-grocers in the area.
"These festivals are a celebration of Indian culture and food – and what a coup it would be for us in Leicester to host the country's first mango festival – and before London!"
Mr Vaz now has to finalise the arrangements – including temporary homes for the wooden elephants, which are up to 24ft by 12ft in size.
The Mercury was the first organisation in the city to know of the palns.
Mr Vaz has already approached the Mercury about having one of the elephants outside our offices in George Street and is now contacting Leicester City FC, Leicester Tigers and large city colleges, such as Rushey Mead School and Soar Valley College.
"This is a bit of an SOS," he said. "I am delighted that the organisers of the first Mango Festival have decided to come to Leicester.
"The elephants are an essential part of the festival but we need to find locations where they can be displayed – and where they will be looked after.
"We are looking for groups, businesses or even individuals who would house and look after the giant elephants for a three-month period.
"I know time is short but it would be such a shame if we missed out on this great opportunity," he said.
Councillor Manjula Sood, assistant city mayor for community involvement and equality, said: "If the festival can go ahead it would be wonderful – much better here than in London!"
The council is organising a "multi-agency" planning meeting to discuss the proposals with Mr Vaz for Friday.
Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said: "It sounds like an interesting proposal and I have asked our festivals and events team to provide advice and support to Keith to help him with its delivery."