Times lands exclusive Mandela quotes

The Hendon Times Group scooped the nationals when Nelson Mandela admitted to the paper he was not offended by a local councillor who had painted himself black to impersonate the former South African president.

Chief reporter Peter Stebbings contacted the Nelson Mandela Foundation after Barnet councillor Brian Gordon found himself resisting calls to resign after "blacking up" and wearing a long white and yellow shirt at a fancy dressthemed party to celebrate the Jewish festival of Purim.

Gordon, who sent a picture of himself in his costume to the Times Group, was accused of poor taste and even racism by political opponents, an accusation he dismisses.

Stebbings said: "It seemed the logical thing to do was to contact Nelson Mandela himself, so I contacted the foundation on the off-chance and to my surprise they got back to me on the day. There was much jubilation in the office."

Mandela's official spokeswoman Zelda la Grange told the Times Group: "We read the article with interest and I also discussed it with Mr Mandela who happened to be in the office this morning.

"We don't see any harm in this whatsoever.

If it was a fancy dress party and people were expected to arrive as a character or famous person, we are convinced there was no ill intent behind this.

"Mr Mandela commented, however, about the choice of the shirt and said — tongue-in-cheek — that it was a rather awkward choice of shirt to resemble his usual shirts."

The story, which was picked up in national newspapers and on BBC London News, helped to get the newspaper's fledgling website up and running and attracted 32 comments.

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