Posts Tagged ‘news of the world’

The Early Days of Hacking

In a time when dinosaurs ruled the earth, or so it would seem to anyone born after 1989, there was a big TV name called Michael Elphick. He had a hit show, attracting millions of viewers. He’d been a party animal in his time and, for some reason, a Sunday taboid editor decided to take him down a notch. Elphick drafted me in to try and wrangle the gorilla.

This was a time when mobile phones were nothing more than a twinkle in the eye of the Star Trek props department and folk depended on land lines. A time when many, many celebrities chose to make themselves ex-directory, their number only available to friends, to protect their privacy. Read the rest of this entry »

News of the Screwed

Yesterday was a momentous day for British journalism and, of course, the PR industry. The world’s biggest English speaking Sunday tabloid newspaper is dead. Rupert Murdoch’s action to try and halt the hurricane sweeping through his empire by taking a Butcher’s cleaver to his own corporate flesh was tactical filicide.

It seems clear from the events of recent days, especially the confusion and contradictory messages from the News International camp, that the company was struggling to thwart the meltdown of the brand and counter the opprobrium.

The move to close the paper, and thereby protect the brand, took my breath away. As a veteran voyeur, I’ve seen some of the extraordinary events Murdoch’s committed in Fleet Street, yet I am unable to work out if this one is a masterstroke or a gesture of panic. I can only suggest that this was a ruthless, brutal and cynical publicity stunt. Read the rest of this entry »

Sarah Ferguson: Shooting Hangers-On in a Barrel

So Sarah Ferguson has been turned over by the News of the World this morning? Reading the front page, it was as much as I could do not to yawn. Yet another sorry tale of money grubbing in Banana Republic GB.

The cash for access sting is unsurprising; it indicates that some people close to the Royals see it as a right to leverage their access for cash. Yes, it’s a ruthless turnover and it just about ticks the public interest box – but wake up, cronies; this is what the NOTW does, so very well. Read the rest of this entry »

More on Terry

I was asked my opinion on the John Terry affair by the Independent a few days ago, alongside Phil Hall, who has been drafted in to look after Terry. We found ourselves in agreement on the way footballers deal with problems and the people they surround themselves with. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“The publicist Mark Borkowski, a Chelsea supporter, said the Terry case would send a ‘shiver’ through football. He said he would have advised Terry to hand the armband back before being stripped of it and said advisers should have been aware of the dubious PR value of the footballer accepting a ‘Dad of the Year’ award from Daddies Sauce last summer. Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Coulson: Tapping in to the Tories

As the former editor of the News of the World turned PR man for David Cameron, Andy Coulson’s appearance before the House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee the other day was always likely to be difficult – this is a high-pressure enquiry into the phone hacking scandal.

His performance was a masterstroke, however – a blend of careful honesty and equally careful image management. Coulson came across as forthright and honest – and he looked relaxed in a suit that could easily have graced the pages of GQ. Importantly, he did not battle the MPs he was facing but was carefully compliant.

There’s no doubt that he knows not to make himself the story – he kept his personality in the background and presented the facts as he saw them. It was abundantly clear, from this appearance, that he has been a major influence on the Tory front bench and on David Cameron in particular. Watching him conducting himself told us much about how he is working with the Tories.

He was as impressive as Alastair Campbell used to be in the same role for Tony Blair, although he cuts a very different dash from Campbell. Where Campbell was more of a Nobby Stiles, Coulson comes across as something of a Cardinal Richelieu, albeit a Richelieu who is prepared to admit his mistakes, which is more than can be said for some MPs.

But would he rather be the PR man for a likely future Prime Minister or to have remained in the editor’s chair at the News of the World? He fell on his sword for the sake of the Murdoch empire in 2007 after the phone tapping scandal involving rogue agents, having carefully built a career in journalism. I would imagine that there’s still a sense of loss about that lurking in the carefully polished depths.

At a time when Sunday newspapers are under ever greater pressure to land scoops – whatever the method and consequence – I imagine Coulson’s safe with the Tories for now, especially since he handled himself so effectively under pressure in front of the Commons select committee and given that his media management of the Tories has, on the whole, been equally effective. He certainly proved he’s an asset to David Cameron in front of the select committee and despite calls for his resignation, I would suggest that he’s not likely to leave this job at present.

The News of the World: Tapping on Heaven’s Door?

It seems, of late, that sleaze is a gift worth giving and that it’s for life, not just for Christmas or for politicians. The latest example – the News of the World phone tapping scandal – is, in Variety’s slanguage, a “dramedy”. It has the potential for seriously succulent consequences, which might be deeply costly for News International. The potential scale of the scandal is enormous.

Most agents and celebrities will be trying to find out if Nick Davies’ research is robust, wondering if they are one of the thousand celebrities whose phones were hacked. If nothing else, the alleged espionage will result in a welter of wealthier celebrities – all thanks to Davies’s diligence.

These are dark times for executives in the Wapping gulag. The sound of gnawing of fingernails will do nothing to deaden the relentless hum of prurient, smug outrage from the celebrity commentariat. For some battle-scarred PR flaks it will come as no surprise that the tabloids have deployed the dark arts of espionage to root out succulent showbiz sweetmeats.

But, from my standpoint, I am expecting the hacking scandal to empower prominent celebrities to wreak legal havoc in a bout of retrospective revenge. Wasn’t it Edward Gibbon who said: “Revenge is profitable, gratitude is expensive”? Celebrities will certainly be riffing on the first part of that quote in the coming months – the genie is about to be escape the bottleneck of secrecy and those affected will almost certainly start suing News International.

I guess that the News of the World will struggle to contain the details of the Taylor settlement, the details of which they have, to date, been able to withhold from the public domain. Once out, however, the paper will be forced to pay out and the ensuing costs will cripple the title. I expect a snowstorm of writs and a couple of spectacular court cases – all of which will make the News of the World look very feeble. Many celebrities will want to follow the Taylor example and will be eager and greedy to extract their own a six figure sums – I know that various high profile legal figures have already attempted to discover who the targets were.

It’s a fact that many misguided public figures feel that their treatment by the likes of News Of the World, who leverage mundane and routine facts and turn them into highly pejorative and prejudicial reports, is entirely unjustified. To achieve monetary reparation for what they see as unfair treatment will certainly be a revenge of sorts. And the paper has played into their hands.

But can you image the chaos the likes of Max Mosley, David Beckham, Gordon Ramsey or even Max Clifford, aggrieved and determined to get some reparation, might create if they can prove that the News of the World has gained access to their phone messages? Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but I’m certain it’ll be heating it up in the microwave of public attention soon enough.

The wrath of a celebrity is impossible to underestimate. There is an apocryphal tale about a celebrity crimper, apoplectic that he had been turned over by the News of the World. To ease the pain he created an effigy of Andy Coulson out of a teddy bear, which he threw it into the bathtub, doused it with lighter fluid, and set it on fire in a fit of voodoo celebrity therapy. Now it is possible that he will be calling Messrs Schillings instead to achieve a more satisfactory – and conventional – form of retribution; a financial sting.

The likely consequence of this potentially seismic activity is that the world of celebrity will have the upper hand in tabloid land in the future. Journalistic research will have to rebooted and the honourable profession will need their own PR to rebuild a tarnished reputation. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next.

Hype, Glory and a Question of Talent in Hay

I’m still recovering from a sold out Hay Festival appearance and the blazing sun. I’d forgotten how wonderful the Festival can be when the weather’s good!

mark and marina at hay

The discussion, Hype and Glory, with the Guardian’s Marina Hyde and our excellent chair, Paul Blezard, was wide ranging and got an excellent response from the audience. Marina wanted to reclaim the world from celebrities and wanted real people with real talent to get recognition. Why should Angelina Jolie be the face of the UN when there are committed and talented people out there who, though less glamorous, do all the hard and amazing work that Jolie is employed to make palatable to the people.

The crux of the talk was who will stop the process of fame at any cost and foreshadowed the results and aftermath of Saturday evening’s Britain’s Got Talent final perfectly. The media love a good celebrity meltdown and there is no doubt that the people who own the formats dictate the stars – and the events on Britain’s Got Talent and in its wake prove this without the shadow of a doubt.

It’s great that Diversity won – here’s a group of talented dancers who represent the best of Britain – but it’s the meteoric rise and post-loss wobble of Susan Boyle that will hold the media’s attention for longer. It’s clear that Boyle has problems – she was diagnosed as having learning difficulties as a child – and has invested way too much of herself in the rollercoaster media ride through the talent contest, as her admission to the Priory for ‘exhaustion’ proves.

Jan Moir at the Mail summed up Boyle’s performance as follows: “Boyle did seem a trifle unsteady, not to mention tranquilised during the final. Yet I still phoned in my vote for her, because she delivered the most compelling and thrilling performance of the evening.” To read the entire article, click here.

The programme has a duty of care to its contestants, but how far will they take that when there’s money at stake?

Proof of the sell-out

Proof of the sell-out

Carole Malone, in her column in yesterday’s News of the World, worries about this too: “TV bosses have a duty of care to EVERY contestant on that show-but Susan needed more support and I don’t think she’s had it. I just hope they don’t – but I worry that once BGT is over, the powers that be will wash their hands of her. No one wants to be responsible for her losing it or coming to any mental or physical harm-especially because of a show that purports to change people’s lives for the better,” she wrote. To see her entire column, click here.

There have always been troubled stars – from Gwili Andre, who I have discussed here (and in my book The Fame Formula) before, to Judy Garland. Back in the glory days, however, the stars were protected from the ugly side of fame and the intense scrutiny that is now the norm. Now, of course, we are getting to see the nightmare of fame thanks to the people’s constant, urgent need for soap opera and the media’s willingness to supply it.

On another note, I noticed that David Milliband slipped into the discussion – perhaps to learn a bit more about spin and how to patch up tarnished reputations – just as I was getting into my stride about the need for people such as myself going into schools to talk to children about the true price of fame. It was noticeable that the more political I got about fame the more uncomfortable he got, to the point that he slipped out almost as soon as he’d arrived. A shame; it would have been interesting to get his viewpoint…

David Milliband in the Hay green room

David Milliband in the Hay green room

Prince Harry and the Racist Remarks

How disappointing to read about Prince Harry’s use of racist language in the press over the weekend, not so much because it’s Harry – it’s no surprise, really, that he’s prone to calling people ‘Paki’ and ‘Raghead’ in fun, given that his idea of fun has seen him dressing in Nazi uniform for parties – but because such language, behaviour and petty racism is still deemed worthy, at best, of only a mild rebuke by the Fourth Estate and by a worrying percentage of the public, as, by and large, the reactions to the News of the World story on their website proves.

Clarence House’s PR, of course, spun the story in the slickest way imaginable, by swiftly leaking the story to all the papers, to take the sting out of the News of the World’s outraged exclusive – a textbook case of lessening the impact of Harry’s unthinking tongue. It’s disappointing, though, that the Fourth Estate’s reaction, which on the whole amounts to little more than a slap on the ankle, tacitly gives permission for such language to remain in use. Surely they should be far more critical?

It’s possible, of course, that the Royal PR machine behind the Princes is just a little too good, but I wonder, in these recessionary times, if it’s not as much about the media keeping Clarence House sweet so they don’t lose access to William and Harry, whose antics, wholesome or otherwise, help keep their circulation up. The way the story has played out certainly suggests that the media were happy to collude with the damage limitation, because of the inside track they were given at the News of the World’s expense.

It’s disappointing that Prince Harry is not the role model he’s been asked to be. But then Harry is something of a blast from the past – he’s the product of a privileged lifestyle that is prone to be blunt of speech, sometimes to the point of rudeness or petty racism, unthinking of the consequences or the people he insults. It is to be hoped that Prince Harry will learn what it means to set an example, will learn the art of diplomacy, but it is equally possible that he will mutate into his grandfather if left unchecked and become another just chip off the block of institutionalized racism at the heart of the establishment.

At a time when tension in the Middle East is running dangerously high and all sides are digging in and whooping up new reasons for continuing the violence, however, surely the revelation that the third person in line to the throne is perfectly happy to bandy about divisive language in the name of fun should have provoked a sterner dressing down from the press and public. 

Unfortunately, at the moment, it seems as if Prince Harry is dripping oil on the fire when he should be aiming it at troubled waters. Let’s hope Clarence House’s formidable PR team can point him in the right direction. I wait with interest to see what demonstration or stunt they will concoct in the near future to further limit the damage.

The kiss-and-tell recession

There’s a new player in town attempting to break in to what Toby Young calls the celebritariat, the fame class. She is Sarah Symonds and she has had her moments in the spotlight before – an affair with Jeffrey Archer and an appearance on Oprah plugging her book Having An Affair? A Handbook For The Other Woman.

In the book, she discussed “a friend” who was having an affair with a foul-mouthed celebrity chef. Now, she has revealed that the “friend” was in fact herself and that she had been having a long-term, on and off affair with Gordon Ramsay. The ingredients of a story that should run and run, you might think? I’m not so sure.

The scenario of the kiss-and-tell hooker is a well-rutted field – remember David Mellor’s downfall at the hands of Antonia de Sancha and Rebecca Loos’ attempt to sell herself as the mistress of David Beckham? Both women were accepted into the media maelstrom of the celebritariat without a second thought. Not so with Sarah Symonds.

Her stab at fame is essentially a DIY job; she tried to find representation with Max Clifford but he passed up on the opportunity. There is, it seems, little appetite for a DIY Rebecca Loos at the moment, no secure place in the pantheon for kiss-and-tell mistresses.

What it boils down to is that, in these recessionary times, there seem to be a lot less blank chequebooks floating around just waiting for mouths to open. Added to that, we are currently seeing the public direct their ire at people who disrupt the status quo, as has happened with Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand’s lewd phone calls to Andrew Sachs.

I would suggest that the public response is likely to be less than rapturous towards Symonds. Certainly, since the story broke in the News of the World yesterday, there has been a welter of press pointing out the stoical response of Gordon Ramsay and his family. It was a classic display of marital strength from the chef and his family; they went shopping and posed, smiling, for the cameras One of their spokespeople was quoted as saying: “There is no comment to make at all. They had gone to Harrods for some Christmas shopping and I think to get some things for lunch. Everything is fine. Life is good and business is good.”

I would suggest that Symonds is going to have to work extremely hard to make her break into the celebrity classes. The fourth estate is likely to be concentrating its resources on bigger game for a while and the public clearly want celebrities who conform to the illusion of stability in these uncertain times. At this juncture, the woman who writes handbooks on how best to keep a married man and outs beloved celebrities as cheaters is much more likely to fall foul of the British public than the man who allegedly cheated, especially if his family stands with him.

Whether or not Ramsay and Symonds had an affair is beside the point; if she is going to achieve what she wants, then there is no doubt that Sarah Symonds has an extremely steep hill to climb.

The celebrity publicist who broke the rules

This article, on the betrayal of Heather Mills’ secrets by her publicist, was published, in edited form, in today’s Guardian. This, however, is the unedited version.

Michele Elyzabeth’s kiss-and-tell all story about her working relationship with Heather Mills in The News of The World is probably the most heinous crime that any publicist can ever commit.

For publicists, clients come and clients go. We live with the bitterness never letting slip the secrets we were entrusted with – those are the rules of the game. In my book, The Fame Formula, one very famous publicist sums up the frustration like this: “A client will pay you $20,000 a month for you to tell him the truth. A year later, expect the star to pay another publicist double the amount to tell the client what he wants to hear.”

Heather Mills ran out of PRs because they all told her what she didn’t want to hear, so she turned to the self-styled French aristocrat and beauty salon owner, Michele Elyzabeth and dubbed her the official worldwide Mills-McCartney spokesperson. But Elyzabeth appears not to play by the PR rulebook. She was, I would suggest, doomed to failure the moment she told the US TV Show “Extra” that her client had received a court order granting full custody of daughter Beatrice, a story that was not corroborated. In branding her client “a calculating, pathological liar and the biggest bitch on the planet”, Elyzabeth has committed the ultimate PR sin.

The current breed of über-publicists – many of whom were trained by PR firm Rogers & Cowan, where Michele Elyzabeth claims she learnt the rules – have gone to their grave without breathing a word of the potentially devastating stories about their AAA list clients, as they are paid to. Elyzabeth’s behaviour would suggest that if she did learn from Rogers & Cowan, she forgot their lessons pretty quickly.

But certain areas of the publicity industry attract such crustaceans. The Fame Formula shines a light on some of this kind of PR, the type who inveigle themselves into their clients’ inner private lives and then betray their trust, despite the professional code of conduct that says never profit from personal relationships with clients. Mills should have listened to the hard truths and taken some of the sterner advice from more responsible publicists.

That said, I doubt Michele Elyzabeth will find it easy to get such a high-profile client again. In PR, trust is worth ten times its weight in gold.

To read the Guardian version, click here.