So what’s the price of integrity? At the moment, you’d be well advised to have a chat about it with Paul Burrell, Diana’s high profile former butler.
The rumoured millions that will accrue to Burrell are of an order that could overturn the profoundest personal principles. At a certain price, socialists become fascists, environmentalists turn polluters, and peaceniks take jobs in the armaments industry. Well, almost.
Burrell is sitting on a rollover. He isn’t stupid: he must realise that if he wants the prize, the price is a lot more than a quid at the local newsagents for six numbers in the next Lotto. To cash in, he has to be prepared to sell everything – absolutely everything – down the river.
That much he must know, but he might not quite grasp that it’s not just any river – it’s the Nile, the Amazon and the Mississippi combined. There’s no “no publicity” box to tick with this particular prize. What life will there be beyond payday? That’s difficult to assess, but being permanently hounded while in exile on the Costa del Crime might constitute an appropriate analogy.
Burrell is subject to a huge clamour. Both the media and bad advisers are shouting “sell sell sell – this is your only chance to cash in” (untrue) and – more subtly, more psychologically, and beyond the promised riches – they’re tempting him with the pleasures of immediate revenge. (Just remember the old adage: don’t serve it hot).
Burrell needs to look for impartial counsel. By my reckoning, there are only about 12 people in the UK who can give it.
It has long been media practice to use the honeyed tongue technique to soothe their celebrity prey into a false sense of security. Of course we’ll tell it like it really is. We’re honourable. We’ll look after you. We care for you. We’re investing in you. This is a relationship. Trust us. We’re sensitive. You won’t get hurt. The rest of them are bastards. And so on.
Whispered in a celebrity’s ear, when the celebrity is feeling exposed and vulnerable, such a caring pitch can be very seductive, because it’s a lifeline. Whispered in an agent’s ear it can also be very seductive, because it’s big bucks.
Agents are as susceptible as anyone else to the lure of money. They can be persuaded to cash in because it is in their own best interests (but not their client’s, although they’ll persuade their client otherwise).
Don’t fall for any of the media’s persuasion or protestation. If the media can do you over, they will. Even if the guys who buy your story act with honour (not a particularly plausible outcome), competing media will rip you to shreds because a competitive market doesn’t work on consensus.
What’s interesting is that we’ve now moved on to the new, improved, Honeyed Tongue (version 6.1). This includes some persuasive new features – features that appear every day as the horse-trading gets under way.
The media realise that their prey is beginning to wise up to the lethal trap disguised as tasty cheese. It’s no longer good enough just to tell celebs they can trust you. They don’t believe you. So Version 6.1 chooses a new, subtler operating system. It generates (sort of) independent evidence of its good intentions, because it starts to treat you right from day one. Stories emerge that are sympathetic to your cause, fight your corner, and cast you in the most flattering light.
These guys don’t just say they’re on your side – they prove it, day in and day out, as your tawdry drama grinds on. If you see someone battling for you, that’s the person you trust. If you’re going to talk to anyone – that’s the one you talk to. You might even take a lower offer from the guy, because he’s honourable. It could well escape your notice that you’re being softened up. Softened up so that you can be stitched up.
This is a neat trick. But as anyone who’s read Glenda Slagg in Private Eye will know, the media has no problem with reversing its position overnight, or even over the page. Understand this, and you see that Version 6.1 is just the same old exploitative game re-skinned for changing times. They might – just might – not draw you in and crucify you, but one way or another you will be crucified because that’s the law of the media jungle.
The lessons may be all too obvious, but then again, since no one ever seems to learn, they need to be restated. Never think that short-term gains will create a long-term future – care for your golden goose, don’t cook it.
Never trust anyone who says they’ll see you right. Never hire an opportunist PR agent – particularly not the one who claims they can score the best deal whether financial, or in terms of reputation, or both.
Above all – only work with a PR agent who displays an absolute, intimate, long-term understanding of the media mind.
That’s someone who has more rat-like cunning than the media rats, someone who knows the media inside out, someone who can wrap them round his/her finger, someone who can second-guess every possible outcome to every worst-case scenario, someone who is ruthlessly unmoved by the entreaties of media supplicants and money men, someone who won’t say one single word unless it’s the one that advances your interest, someone who shares a vision with you and that you develop together, someone who is immune (and proven to be immune) to the seductive power of the fast buck.
What this whole soap opera is exposing is how few – how very, very few – people there are who can handle such an explosive story. Like I say, there’s probably no more than a dozen in the country who can provide the disinterested advice that Burrell so desperately needs.
The rest are no-win/no-fee ambulance chasers, and we all know that they’re just in it for a lifetime’s blow-out banquet on the meat of Burrell’s story. They don’t care what kind of cook they give it to, or how it’s served, so long as the cook’s got a very big budget.
So, Mr Burrell, what next?
Without getting too Thought for the Day about it, integrity is about keeping faith with your friends and their confidences and being true to yourself. What is it that needs to be said? What do you need to say for yourself (as opposed to what the papers need you to say so that they can sell more papers)? Can you find a way to say it that can circumvent the circus?
The factor of prime importance is time. Take time. A whole lot of time. Don’t let yourself be provoked (that’s a very dangerous one, and the media are very adept). And only be prepared to take advice after you’ve examined your potential adviser’s track record in the most intimate detail.
Never, ever, fall for Version 6.1. And watch out: Version 6.2 is already well advanced in its development.