The performance of Alex Hall, Jeremy Clarkson’s now-infamous-once-gagged ex, on ‘That Sunday Night Show’ last week was a classic example of the dark underbelly of the kiss and tell process. Your publicist finds an op, you do it no matter what, and you end making a quick facial omelette. It’s like Faust’s pact with the devil except even more boring to watch as it’s acted out.
Hall was somehow savaged by a panel which contained, amongst others, professionally ineffectual wall hanging Louis Spence and Chiles himself, the world’s least threatening man. Even worse: she has achieved the exact opposite of her presumed aim. Following her constant, whining ubiquity over the past few days, the only sane response is to actually feel sorry for Clarkson. She’s unlikely to make the money she wants, but even if she does, it’ll be pretty tainted now.
Rumour has it that Hall has fired Clifford following the debacle. It’s fascinating to me that this is the conclusion people have drawn: much more likely he’s quietly given her the shove. He sat next to her, blandly besuited like a court-appointed attorney in a police drama, ashen faced as she shot herself in the foot time after time. An attempted gag in which she turned the initials used to refer to her case under the injunction (a.m.m vs h.x.w) into a faux-provocative acronym fell flatter than Spence’s washboard abs. ‘Adulterous Motor Mouth vs. Hurt Ex Wife’, if you’re interested. Cue slow clap.
Not content with total sense of humour failure, she saw fit to run through the PR handbook of toxic ideas. The nadir? She came closer than anyone has for a while to evoking the Clinton Defence: asked whether she could prove the alleged affair, she replied simply ‘what’s proof?’.
Hall has been given a short sharp shock and taught a valuable lesson. Whether you feel you have a story to tell or not is irrelevant. Even if you think you’ve been wronged, you won’t be safe. Despite your indignation at a court gagging or whatever other justification you have, as soon as you go to Max Clifford and release a publicity narrative which, despite Hall’s protestations, can only be branded a ‘kiss and tell’ by the tabloids, any gains you make will be tainted forever.
The price of this kind of fame is high, and Hall is paying it already. It’s a vicious circle of course: the greater her frustration, and the more she feels the need to defend herself, the worse she comes across. Her appearance on TSNS was defined by her manner: humourless, unsmiling, self-serving. Her claim that her book was never originally intended to feature details of the much discussed affair is somewhat dubious. Tellingly, it was backed up only by insistences that it would prove interesting solely on the basis of the revelations it offered into her clearly rather tiresome life.
What Hall should have realised is that, as soon as she appears on television she’s up against people with a script behind them and an audience already onside. Chiles is hardly the greatest humourist on British TV, but he got some big laughs at her expense, particularly when he referred to Clarkson’s considerable material wealth. Both literally and metaphorically, the laughter of studio audiences will render any sincere points Hall has to offer inaudible.
The lesson here is clear: kiss and tells never offer the gazillions they promise, and what pecuniary reward they do carry comes with a heavy burden. Hall’s punishment is almost classical in its irony. Like Sisyphus and his Stone, she is doomed to toil forever. Each new protestation of innocence and search for vindication will breed new accusations, and the process will fuel itself.