Singer Vera Lynn, voice of hope in wartime Britain, dies at 103

LONDON (Reuters) – Vera Lynn, the singer who became a symbol of hope in Britain during World War Two and again during the coronavirus pandemic with her song “We’ll Meet Again”, has died at the age of 103. Known as the Forces’ Sweetheart, Lynn struck a chord with soldiers fighting overseas and with the public back in Britain with songs such as “The White Cliffs of Dover” that gave voice to the hopes and fears about the conflict with Nazi Germany. To mark her 100th birthday in 2017, a giant image of Lynn as a young woman was projected on to Dover’s white cliffs and a new album released. She was back in the news as recently as April when Queen Elizabeth used words from Lynn’s song to tell the country “We will meet again” and urge them to show resolve during the coronavirus lockdown. Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted: “Dame Vera Lynn’s charm and magical voice entranced and uplifted our country in some of our darkest hours. Her voice will live on to lift the hearts of generations to come.” Lynn was born Vera Welch on March 20, 1917, the daughter of a plumber in London’s East End, and was singing in working men’s clubs at the age of seven. She began radio broadcasts and singing with bands in the late 1930s. But it was her wartime songs that won her fame and led to British tanks trundling into battle with ““Vera” painted on their sides and more than 1,000 written offers of marriage from servicemen. In 1941, she began a weekly radio broadcast from London called ““Sincerely Yours” in which she relayed messages from British troops serving in all war theatres to their loved ones. After the war, she lived quietly for most of her life on England’s south coast near Brighton with Harry Lewis, the man she had married in 1941, a clarinet player who became her manager. Known locally in the village of Ditchling as Mrs Lewis, she had a passion for gardening and detective novels. “”I was lucky,” she said. “”I had a talent; it lifted me out of the bracket I was born into. “”And when I got my house and a little car, I thought, well that’s all I want.”

Singer Vera Lynn, voice of hope in wartime Britain, dies at 103 – PA Media

LONDON (Reuters) – Singer Vera Lynn, who became a symbol of hope in Britain during World War Two and more recently during the coronavirus pandemic with her song “We’ll Meet Again”, has died at the age of 103, British media reported on Thursday. Known as the Forces’ Sweetheart, Lynn struck a chord with soldiers fighting overseas and with the public back in Britain with songs such as “The White Cliffs of Dover” that gave voice to the hopes and fears about the conflict with Nazi Germany. To mark her 100th birthday in 2017, a giant image of Lynn as a young woman was projected on to the White Cliffs and a new album was released. Lynn, who had continued to make public appearances in later life, was back in the news earlier this year when Queen Elizabeth used words from her famous song to tell the country “We will meet again” during a very rare broadcast to the nation to address the coronavirus outbreak

Hong Kong’s Disneyland reopens after five-month coronavirus break

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s loss-making Disneyland theme park reopened on Thursday to a limited number of local visitors and with enhanced health measures after the coronavirus outbreak forced it to close in late January. In contrast to major outbreaks seen in other big cities around the world, Hong Kong has reported a relatively small number of infections, recording 1,121 cases and four deaths. The border remains virtually shut but life is slowly returning to normal. Dozens of visitors were seen queuing to get into the park on Thursday morning, many of them families with children. “In the past few months I missed coming here so much,” said annual pass holder Vicky Lam, 36, as she waved at staff wearing Disney character costumes. The park says its shopping and dining locations will have reduced capacity and that it will implement social distancing measures in any queues and throughout its facilities. It will also carry out disinfection more frequently and make hand sanitisers available for visitors, who are required to go through temperature screening and wear a face mask. Hong Kong’s Disneyland resort, which reported losses for at least the past three years according to annual reports available on its website, is owned by a joint venture, Hongkong International Theme Parks Ltd, in which the local government has 53% stake and Walt Disney Co holds the rest. Without tourists, business for Disneyland in Hong Kong is likely to remain subdued. It will have to rely on a domestic market that was struggling with recession after months of often-violent pro-democracy protests even before the coronavirus blow. Ocean Park, the city’s other theme park, reopened on Saturday after lawmakers approved a HK$5.4 billion ($697 million) bailout plan last month to keep it running for another year. Shanghai’s Disneyland, which is able to attract visitors from outside the city, re-opened in May.

Kim Kardashian West to host criminal justice podcast for Spotify

(Reuters) – Reality TV star Kim Kardashian West has reached a deal with Swedish music streaming company Spotify Technology SA to host a podcast related to criminal justice reform, a representative for West said on Wednesday. The show, to be available exclusively on Spotify, will be connected to West’s work with The Innocence Project, a nonprofit that fights wrongful convictions, the representative said. Best known for developing beauty and fashion products and chronicling her life with her sisters on TV’s “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” West became interested in criminal justice reform after helping to win the release two women from prison. She is currently studying to become a lawyer through a California apprenticeship program. The new podcast will highlight the investigative work of TV producer Lori Rothschild Ansaldi, West’s representative said. No financial terms were disclosed for the deal, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal. Spotify, which has over 700,000 podcasts on its platform and reaches nearly 300 million monthly users, has been investing in big names to draw audiences to non-musical content. In May, it signed a deal for exclusive rights to a popular podcast by comedian Joe Rogan. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Spotify reaches podcast deal with Kim Kardashian West: WSJ

(Reuters) – Reality TV star Kim Kardashian West reached a deal with Spotify Technology SA for a podcast about her work with the Innocence Project, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday, citing people familiar with the matter. Kardashian West and television producer Lori Rothschild Ansaldi are to co-produce and co-host the show, the report added here citing one of the people. Spotify, which has over 700,000 podcasts on its platform and reaches nearly 300 million monthly users, has been investing heavily in an ongoing quest to transform itself into the Netflix of audio. The show, to be available exclusively on Spotify, will highlight the work of the nonprofit legal organization that seeks to exonerate people who have been wrongly convicted, the report said. Spotify did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Kristen Stewart to play Princess Diana in new movie

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Kristen Stewart will play Britain’s Princess Diana in an upcoming movie about the breakdown of her marriage to Prince Charles, Hollywood trade publication Deadline reported on Wednesday. Stewart, 30, best known for her role in the “Twilight Saga” movies, has been cast in the film which will take place over three days in the early 1990s when Diana made the bombshell decision to part ways with Charles and remove herself from becoming queen. Charles and Diana separated in 1992 and divorced four years later in what was an unprecedented move in modern times for an heir to the British throne. Diana died in a Paris car crash in 1997 at the age of 36. The independent movie, to be directed by Chilean Pablo Larrain, is expected to start shooting in 2021. No casting was announced for Charles. “When someone decides not to be the queen, and says, I’d rather go and be myself, it’s a big big decision, a fairy tale upside down,” Larrain told Deadline. “How and why do you decide to do that? It’s a great universal story that can reach millions and millions of people, and that’s what we want to do. We want to make a movie that goes wide, connects with a worldwide audience that is interested in such a fascinating life,” he added. The movie, titled “Spencer” after Diana’s maiden name, is the latest in a string of movies, television series, documentaries and even a Broadway musical about the life of the late princess. Larrain, who won critical praise for his 2016 film “Jackie” about the wife of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, said Stewart was a great fit for the part. “She can be very mysterious and very fragile and ultimately very strong as well, which is what we need,” he told Deadline. “I think she’s going to do something stunning and intriguing at the same time.”

U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passes major conservation bill

(Reuters) – The U.S. Senate on Wednesday passed a major conservation bill that would permanently direct $900 million a year to a long-standing federal program aimed at acquiring and protecting public lands. The 73-25 vote in the Republican-led chamber was a rare bipartisan effort led by Republican Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana, as well as Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Both Gardner and Daines are up for re-election this year. The Great American Outdoors Act, if enacted into law, would insulate the Land and Water Conservation Fund from the congressional appropriations process. It guarantees $900 million in annual funding that comes from royalties paid by offshore oil and gas drilling operations. The LWCF was created in 1964, but Congress in most years has diverted funding for it to other uses. It received $495 million in funding last year. The Great American Outdoors Act provides $9.5 billion over five years for deferred maintenance projects on public lands including national parks and forests. The legislation now moves to the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass. President Donald Trump has said he would sign the bill into law.

London producer Mackintosh shuts down ‘Hamilton’ and other top shows until 2021

LONDON (Reuters) – Shows including “Hamilton” and “Les Miserables” will not return to the London stage until 2021, producer Cameron Mackintosh said on Wednesday, blaming uncertainty over when the British government would lift social distancing measures. Theatres, cinemas and other entertainment venues were shut down in March as part of efforts to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, which has claimed more lives in Britain than in any other European country. An influential figure in London’s West End entertainment district where he owns several theatres, Mackintosh has produced hit musicals for decades. He said he had taken the “heart-breaking” decision to delay the return of his four current London shows, which also include “Mary Poppins” and “The Phantom of the Opera”, to ensure that his business could survive. The decision could lead to redundancies for all employees on the productions, and an internal consultation process had begun. “Despite the government engaging with the desperate pleas from everyone in the theatre industry, so far there has been no tangible practical support beyond offers to go into debt which I don’t want to do,” he said in a statement. “Their inability to say when the impossible constraints of social distancing will be lifted makes it equally impossible for us to properly plan for whatever the new future is.” Mackintosh said his companies’ reserves had been massively depleted by the complete closure of the industry, and that he had to take drastic steps to ensure his shows could restart next year. Culture minister Oliver Dowden said he had spoken to Mackintosh and others in the industry, and the government was working to resolve the challenges they faced. “It is going to be exceptionally difficult for theatres to open consistent with social distancing, and that is why I continue to have discussions across government to see what further support we can give theatres,” he said at a news conference.

Lyft promises switch to 100% electric vehicles by 2030

(Reuters) – Ride-hailing company Lyft Inc (LYFT.O) on Wednesday said every vehicle on its ride-hailing and rental car platform will be electric by 2030, but it would not provide direct financial support to drivers for switching from gas-powered cars. Instead, the company plans to push competitors, lawmakers and automakers to make it easier for drivers to switch to electric vehicles by creating financial incentives, Lyft executives said during a call. John Zimmer, Lyft’s co-founder and president, said the company has reached a scale to impact policy change. Lyft, whose vehicle fleet is currently made up of less than 1% electric cars, in a statement said it would aggressively promote and help drivers access incentive funds. “If policymakers do their part in the next few years, EVs should reach cost parity with gasoline vehicles by mid-decade,” the company said. Environmental activists have called on Lyft and larger rival Uber Technologies Inc (UBER.N) to electrify their fleets. A February study found ride-hail services create around 50% more carbon emissions than private car trips. Uber has not made a blanket commitment to electrification, but is partially subsidizing drivers’ electric vehicle purchases in London. Electric vehicles are currently more expensive than gasoline ones, but the comparable cost of operating and maintaining them over time is lower. Lyft said the price for ride-hail trips in battery-powered cars might even decline in the future. In the past, Lyft has said that 80% of its drivers have full or part-time jobs and offer rides to supplement their income. Many ride-hail drivers also use leasing companies to rent a vehicle and are concerned about the wear and tear to their cars. Lyft offers rental services for drivers and consumers through its own platform and said it would buy electric vehicles for that fleet, but declined to say how many. The company also said it was in active discussions with carmakers on electrification, but declined to provide details.

Namibia faces red locust invasion

WINDHOEK (Reuters) – Namibia’s Ministry of Agriculture said on Wednesday it had detected an outbreak of red locusts in central regions of the southern African country and had sent pest control teams to the affected areas. The large grasshopper species, which is marked by bright red wings, is common to sub-Saharan Africa and breeds abundantly under drought conditions followed by rain and rapid vegetation growth. The ministry said the locusts were flying in from Botswana and Zambia. Videos shared by the ministry showed thick clouds of insects flying low over crop fields and farmland in the central Otjozondjupa region. Namibian officials said it was too early to link the infestation to locust swarms wreaking havoc in East Africa since last year in a migration that started in the Middle East, and has been worsened by the coronavirus pandemic. Ministry spokesperson Margaret Kalo told Reuters details of the extent of the damage caused by the locusts were not available at this stage. The summer harvesting season has been completed but the red locusts pose a serious threat to winter crops such as wheat and barley as well as livestock grazing areas, she said. The latest red locust invasion follows a similar outbreak in February in the Zambezi region, named after Africa’s fourth largest river, which overlaps parts of Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana.