‘She just wants enough to look after their daughter…’
The Scotsman 17 Aug 2006
FOR tabloid editors, it is a divorce made in heaven. For weeks now, the tabloids have tracked every twist in the separation of Heather Mills and Paul McCartney… Mark Borkowski, one of Britain’s top PR exponents, says: “The beauty of Phil Hall is he’s very well connected, he’s a former editor, he will know what the headline will say before it is written.”
FOR tabloid editors, it is a divorce made in heaven. For weeks now, the tabloids have tracked every twist in the separation of Heather Mills and Paul McCartney, with coverage convulsing over whether Paul is a tight-fisted control freak, or his model wife is now finally unmasked as a scheming money-grabber.
This is a battle being fought on the playing fields of PR. While the lawyers will ultimately resolve the finances, the fight to win over public opinion seems to intensify daily.
Paul McCartney is represented by the Outside Organisation, an entertainment company with high-profile clients including David Bowie and The Who. In Heather’s corner is Phil Hall, a former editor of the News of the World whose other print credentials include being editor-in-chief of Hello!.
The 50-year-old former tabloid editor now runs his own consultancy, Phil Hall Associates. But even for a seasoned operator such as Hall, representing 38-year-old Mills must be a considerable challenge.
This is, after all, Hall admits, a woman reviled by many: “I had known Paul and Heather for some time, and when the marriage broke up, obviously I rang her and offered my sympathy. Then about six weeks into it she rang me and said, ‘Look, I’m being absolutely slaughtered by the newspapers, most of which is for stuff that happened 20 years ago.'”
Mills came under a prolonged newspaper onslaught, as soft-porn pictures of the model – which appeared in a German sex-education book published in 1988 – emerged. Hall says Mills told him: “I was 18 years old, I came down from Newcastle, I was wet behind the ears, fell into the hands of a photographer who was pretty unscrupulous and realised what he could do, I fell for the line that these pictures would never be seen by anyone.
It was a mistake, but why should I now be slaughtered by it?”
Mills, who lost a leg in 1993 after being hit by a police motorcycle, has discovered on previous occasions that media interest in her could range beyond her charity work. In 2003, a Channel 4 documentary depicted her as a schemer who manipulated men and whose account of her past is peppered with reinvention.
Hall says Mills had a one-sentence explanation for her bad press: “I married a Beatle, full stop”.
Hall adds: “Every partner of a Beatle has had the same problem. Linda had it when she first married Paul, it was the same with Ringo, it’s been the same with all of them. They all had this problem because of these revered icons that are put on a pedestal by everybody and the newspapers are very wary of ever criticising them.”
How does Heather Mills cope with routinely being labelled a gold-digger?
“It’s very cruel, in conversations I’ve had with her she’s not even looking for huge sums, she says wants just enough to look after her daughter, Beatrice, and get on with life. The newspapers are jumping all over it because they just want headlines.”
He denies the GBP 200 million figure was floated by Heather’s camp. “No, not under any circumstances. Total and utter imagination of a journalist working out the income from McCartney tours. She hasn’t been offered GBP 30m or GBP 40m and turned it down, she hasn’t been offered anything. The lawyers are still putting their cases together.”
As an experienced tabloid journalist, Hall needs few lectures in how celebrity photo-opportunities can be constructed. However, he denies that pictures of Mills shut out of the couple’s London home after the locks were apparently changed were stunted to depict Mills as a neglected waif.
“Photographers have been living there 24/7 for the last eight weeks, they haven’t left the doorstep at any stage. To suggest a photographer was tipped off is nonsense. She was due to hand the baby over the following day, it is her marital home and 80 per cent of her belongings are in there. I would swear on the Bible to you there was absolutely no set-up.”
Hall bristles at the suggestion that a Daily Mail page lead in which Mills was pictured out cycling with her new private guards might appear staged, perhaps to show her as a woman striking out on her own.
“Everyone wants to read some cynical, twisted motive into it,” he says.
“She is a human being who has got to live a life, and everyone seems to have forgotten that.
“She has just had an operation on her limb which has taken some bone away, she has to exercise it every day or there is muscle wastage that makes the limb unusable. Is she supposed to sit in the house day after day?”
Hall says he takes 30 calls a day from journalists over the McCartney story yet rarely has direct communication with his client. “I don’t speak to her [Mills] hardly at all. I speak to her sister and some friends of hers. She won’t read the papers, she is so distressed, people are shouting abuse at her in the streets. It is all pretty horrific at the minute.”
His job, he says, is to be “reactive” and to “correct some of the imbalances and madness”. That balance tipped rather helpfully in Mills’s direction on the front page of yesterday’s Daily Mirror. In a “Macca exclusive”, the paper claimed Mills had now been “banned” from McCartney’s home at Peasmarsh, East Sussex, and instead the ex-Beatle “demanded” the hand-over of their two-year-old daughter take place at a nearby hotel. Details of the story were sourced to “a friend.” Heather was photographed leaving the venue with her daughter in a helicopter, allowing for yet another Beatles-pun headline: “Heli Hello”.
How do Hall’s peers assess his task? Mark Borkowski, one of Britain’s top PR exponents, says: “The beauty of Phil Hall is he’s very well connected, he’s a former editor, he will know what the headline will say before it is written.”
However, he believes McCartney is “sharper and cooler” in the PR stakes.
“The Beatles were bred and honed in publicity right back to their early career. Heather Mills McCartney came out of a moment in time and she has only managed to harvest good publicity, she has not really seen negative publicity and this is a shock.
“I think she felt she was bigger and hubris took over. She felt it was a war between Paul McCartney and her, and she felt she could win it. She didn’t recognise or ultimately truly respect what her husband stood for.”
Max Clifford believes Hall is facing a struggle by representing McCartney’s wife: “Heather McCartney is disliked by almost everybody you speak to, Paul McCartney is liked by almost everybody you speak to. She is the one who has got to do all the work and got to change things.
“Paul McCartney starts from the position of almost being a legend worldwide, one of our all-time favourites. She starts from a position of being perceived by almost everybody out there as a gold-digger.”
Clifford says he has “an awful lot of sympathy” for Hall’s role in representing Mills, adding: “He is on an absolute hiding to nothing, first of all because of McCartney’s popularity and status of 40 odd years, the way the public perceive her, and the fact that, in my view, she is not listening, or wouldn’t listen to, anyone.”