Stars in alignment for Assange's 40th

IF JULIAN ASSANGE is feeling nervous in the lead-up to his High Court appearance in London this week, he is not showing it.

The WikiLeaks founder was reported to be celebrating his 40th birthday last night, with an extravagant party before his court case, where he will fight extradition to Sweden on sex charges.

The venue for the party was never in doubt. As part of his bail conditions, he is required to wear an ankle security tag and reside at the 10-bedroom Ellingham Hall in rural Norfolk.

What seems rather more surprising is the guest list and, if reports in the British press are to be believed, the A-list celebrities who might turn up. Speculation in The Independent suggested that Oprah Winfrey, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (last seen in Malta, where the former is shooting a movie), Johnny Depp (who spends most of his time in France) and Anna Wintour (the Manhattan-based editor of US Vogue) are among those who could be trying to find their way to the property.

But perhaps they will just send their birthday wishes through cyberspace - Mr Assange's preferred medium of communication.

Last August he made a 10-day visit to Sweden and, while there, two women complained to police about his alleged sexual conduct.

He has blamed ''dirty tricks'' by the US government.

Australian-born, Mr Assange says his house arrest over the allegations is hampering the work of WikiLeaks, and his supporters accuse Britain of spying on him.

Mr Assange shot to worldwide fame after a series of sensational leaks of classified US documents, including about 250,000 State Department cables, were published by WikiLeaks.

His life is further complicated by the fact that he has accepted an advance of nearly $1.5 million from publishers for his ghostwritten memoirs, but now they are written, he seems to have had second thoughts. He reportedly fears the contents could be used by the US government to support the case for extraditing him across the Atlantic.

This is said to have left the publishers with a severe headache as they wonder how to recover the money already paid out. Their problems are compounded by the fact that the advance was put into escrow, according to the reports, which means that Mr Assange's lawyers have first claim on it.

He has run up vast legal fees in a battle to avoid being sent to Sweden for trial on the sexual assault charges.