The shortlist of settings battling to become the UK's first City of Culture in 2013 has been announced by Culture Minister Margaret Hodge.
Fourteen locations across the country will challenge for the lucrative title, including an entire county in the form of Cornwall, a joint entry by traditional south coast rivals Portsmouth and Southampton and a sole Welsh entry for Swansea.
Carlisle made the shortlist despite lacking an arts centre, an issue which divided councillors when the Cumbria city entered the cultural war in September.
Officials in Carlisle have launched their Once and Future City bid as part of the Carlisle Renaissance campaign. carlisle renaissance.co.uk
"Creating Carlisle's bid has deepened our understanding of the city's culture," said Bryan Chair, who has led the Once and Future City bid under the auspices of Carlisle Renaissance, a wider initiative focusing on "the enormous potential" to "do wonderful things for local people and businesses".
"We've concentrated on finding out what local people want for and from their city," he reflected, calling the result "an exciting programme and robust plan."
"Whether we are successful in the competition or not, this is a blueprint for pushing culture higher up the city's agenda."
Carlisle City Council Leader Mike Mitchelson promised a cultural schedule re-introducing the city’s 14th century Great Fair alongside a Land of Fire and Ice, skating at Carlisle Castle, pop concerts, film festivals, carnivals and street performers, and Maria Whitehead, Director of the Carlisle Tourism Partnership, said the £5.5 million investment would reap a £10 million economic reward and up to 2,000 new jobs.
Norwich won verbose support from cult hero Stephen Fry, who hailed the "radical and independent nature" and "long and distinguished history" of the East Anglia town where he grew up.
"Norwich is not a chocolate box town," he assured would-be critics.
"It is a thriving, living city and a contemporary place which has consistently moved ahead in its own distinctive, radical and independent way."
Stephen Fry has thrown the weight of his words behind Norwich's entry. fanpix.net
In Cornwall, European Regions of Culture Campaign Director Miranda Bird said the region was "seeking recognition for its excellent and varied cultural assets".
"We believe that people will be very surprised to learn just how internationally linked, modern and prolific Cornwall's cultural is," she suggested.
"Put that with our distinctive regional identity and heritage, and it's a very rich offer indeed."
Paul Fleming, the Mayor of Derry in Northern Ireland, called the title "a stepping stone to a wider recognition of our city".
(Left to right) Stephen Baily (Head of Culture), Nigel Petty (XL Print) and Councillor Lee Hunt (Member for Leisure and Culture) launched the joint Southampton and Portsmouth bid by delivering one of the largest Christmas cards ever made to the Culture Minister
"The Council has already initiated a bid to attain World Heritage status," he admitted.
"In these harsh economic times it is perhaps natural to be pessimistic about the future but this would be to underestimate what this city has to offer in terms of its history, heritage, culture and - most importantly - its citizens."
The city's bid is based on The Cure at Troy, the poem by famous Derry son Seamus Heaney, and the Nobel Prize winner is apparently forming an unlikely alliance with former Undertones singer Feargal Sharkey in support of the campaign, which has been boosted by the withdrawal of a potential rival entry from Belfast.
Not to be outdone, Durham lured Billy Elliot star Rhys Yeoman to present the bid in London, and baritone Sir Thomas Allen, who has been cited as the inspiration for the character, said the North-East city deserved "accolade upon accolade".
Durham's Billy Elliot-inspired bid took to the streets of London
Pompey and Southampton were apparently targeting football fans rather than romcom audiences with their slogan of PS I Love You.
They're aiming to tap into the "overwhelming love" thousands of fans of the teams from both cities take to matches, little of which ever materialises when the two play each other.
The enormous Christmas card that council organisers sent to Margaret Hodge as part of the plan has also been submitted to Guinness World Records.
Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney is in Derry's corner
Sheffield has shown plenty of steel since submitting its bid, unleashing an edgy, blog-style website covering the multitude of consultations and arts events which have taken place to accompany the campaign.
"We have the largest theatre complex outside of London, fantastic local festivals and an internationally recognised music scene," argued Sylvia Dunkley, Cabinet Member for Culture, Sport and Tourism.
"In the past city leaders haven't shouted loudly enough about it and we haven't had the recognition Sheffield deserves. We intend to change all of that with this bid."
Showpiece events including the Brit Awards, the Turner Prize and the BBC Sports Personality of the Year could be embellished with some Essex bling if Southend succeeds.
"Southend is full of artists and creativity, and there is a real buzz of excitement at the moment about how this can shape the future of the borough," explained Collette Bailey, Managing Director of the project to restore the seaside town's Chalkwell Hall.
"A bid to be recognised as the first UK Capital of Culture will provide a real focus and national platform for that energy and talent."
The judges will visit new arts centres such as the Tap in Southend. longpier.blogspot.com
"Southend's cultural offer has been growing and gathering pace for a number of years and it is time that this receives major recognition," added Southend Executive Councillor for Culture Derek Jarvis, who said the town has "something for everybody."
"We are very proud of the fact that culture in Southend is inclusive and accessible to all."
Swansea Bay Futures Executive Director Fiona Rees said the city's bid would build on the existing local cultural attractions.
"As well as the mainstream events and activities, we will be including the creative industries which are already strong in Swansea Bay, such as digital media and animation," she said.
"It's the centenary of the birth of Dylan Thomas in 2014, so the designation as UK City of Culture in 2013 couldn't come at a better time."
Barnsley, Birmingham, Chichester, Hull and East Yorkshire and Ipswich and the Haven Gateway make up the rest of the shortlist. A panel of judges will visit all the areas ahead of deciding the winner after June 2010.