Wednesday, September 13, 2006

And another anniversary

It's the fifteenth birthday of The Big Issue this week.

I was there for the tenth (it was in the three year period when I left the Eye before returning, in the immortal words of my late colleage Paul Foot 'like a dog to its own vomit'), and we'd prepared not one but three special commemorative editions, focusing on the hundreds of vendors the magazine had helped to move on out of homelessness, the part we had played in putting the issue on the political agenda, the surprising number of news stories we'd broken and the most embarrassing things celebrities had told us in interviews - that sort of thing.

We had a full schedule of events and activities lined up for the birthday week, founder John Bird (that charming man) had done plenty of interviews and publicity work which was scheduled to appear on the anniversary itself, and then a rumour went round the office that the Queen Mother was at death's door. We panicked. There goes our publicity. A series of phonecalls established that this was probably a mixture of chinese whispers and wishful thinking on our anarchist news editor's part, and after removing any even vaguely contentious references to the royal family from the magazine, we went ahead, slapping ourselves on the back for our care and foresight.

And lo, it came to pass, that the 10th birthday of the Big Issue arrived with the Queen Mum alive and well - on 12th September 2001.

I hope they get more coverage this time around. Happy birthday to them.

Leave it Grant, she ain't worth it...

From Street of Shame, Eye 1167, out today.

"POSHED AS A NEWT!" shrieked the Daily Mirror over the front-page 'news' that Victoria Beckham had been pictured staggering around drunk at 5am after a night out in London. Not to be outdone, the Star rechristened her "Slosh Spice", while the Evening Standard's headline was equally succinct: "BENDER IT LIKE BECKHAM".
One title, however, went for a different approach: "POSH JUST ACE IN LACE", simpered the Sun, over a full-page picture of Mrs Beckham looking demure, sober, and, er, "luscious in lace during a night on the loose".
Why the restraint? A clue was provided by the Daily Mail's account of how her "civilised evening of fine dining descended into one of raucous tomfoolery" - "her companions included the chef Gordon Ramsay and his wife Tana, interior designer Kelly Hoppen, actor Ross Kemp and his wife Sun editor Rebekah Wade." And we all know what she's like with a few drinks inside her, as her husband could have testified (but refused to) last November.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Nothing from the current issue of the Eye...

I've got plenty of stories in, but they're all a bit August.

So instead, lets take a moment to think of our Queen of Hearts, that windy candle who was taken from us so cruelly just nine years ago, and a little tribute to those who do so much to keep her memory alive.

From Private Eye, September 2002

“As bodyguard to the late Princess of Wales, Ken Wharfe got a taste for walking along sun-kissed beaches”, thundered Richard Kay in the Daily Mail on August 24. “To keep up the lifestyle he has betrayed her trust by selling a sordid memoir of her affairs and her instability.” Kay’s three page denouncement of the protection officer-turned-grass was accompanied by a picture of Wharfe on a French beach, taken by super-paparazzo Jason Fraser – precisely the sort of shot the Daily Mail swore blind it would never use again after Diana died all those years ago.

“It is breathtaking hypocrisy”, thundered Kay on the Mail’s front page the following Tuesday. He was referring not to his own paper, but Wharfe again, in the third article he had managed to squeeze out of the scandal in as many days. Kay, of course, would never dream of profiting out of the life and death of the princess. His own part work, “Diana: The Untold Story”, serialised interminably with the Mail in 1998 and then released as a book, was presumably bashed out in his spare time as a labour of love. As was his adaptation of Nick Davies’ book “Diana: A Princess And Her Troubled Marriage”, cobbled together as a serialisation for the Mail in 1992 when the paper was outbid for Andrew Morton’s tome. As was every one of the 1000 or so articles that he has written about Diana for various papers around the world since her death in 1997.

Kay bases his coverage on his close relationship with Diana – the pair used to have secret meetings in the hack’s car, at which the princess would feed him titbits of scurrilous gossip which would duly appear on the front page of the Mail the next day. “She trusted me and revealed herself constantly”, he boasted after her death. So he is well placed to judge Wharfe’s “shameful decision to cash in on his friendship with a Princess who placed so much trust in him”.

Could Kay’s pique at Wharfe be prompted by the fact that the book is co-written by his long-time rival royal correspondent at The Express, Robert Jobson? In the 4000 or so words he has bashed out for the Mail, Kay has not found space to tell us. And while he lists at length the book’s “sordid” and “shameful” claims about Diana’s sex life, he doesn’t mention another of Wharfe’s revelations – that she only ended her long affair with James Hewitt because her privacy was invaded by a scurrilous hack by the name of, er, Richard Kay.

From Private Eye, October 2003

If the “War of the Waleses” was sordid and vicious, it is nothing compared to the battle of the Diana pundits that has raged since the princess’ death. Paul Burrell’s latest revelations, revealed exclusively to the Daily Mirror, set off the latest round of side-swapping and name-calling in the six-year circus.

On 21st October the Sun called on two men amply qualified to criticise Burrell for cashing in on Diana’s memory by writing a book - former royal bodyguard Ken Wharfe (Diana: Closely Guarded Secret, Michael O’Mara, 2002) and ex-private secretary Patrick Jephson (Shadows of a Princess, Harper Collins, 2000). Wharfe is an old hand at slagging off Burrell’s gullibility - The Sun hired him as a spolier to the butler’s Mirror deal last November, despite having accused him of leaving the Queen “hurt and betrayed” three months previously when his own book was serialised elsewhere. Jephson, who obligingly stumped up 400 words on “the many unscrupulous voices that were ready to exploit Diana’s vulnerablity”, was making his first appearance in The Sun since last December, when the paper branded him “Diana’s Judas” for writing about the princess.

Realising that it needed back-up in the face of such big guns, The Mirror wheeled out “Di’s Confidante” Simone Simmons (Diana: The Secret Years, Michael O’Mara, 1998) to back up Burrell’s account of anonymous threats to the princess. Simmons happily obliged - despite having been branded one of the “trusted few who betrayed Diana” by the paper in August 2002 (the paper pronounced itself particularly disgusted by her “astonishing claims that Diana had a passionate fling with and wanted to marry heart surgeon Hasnat Khan”, even though they exclusively reported the exact same thing in 1996). Now, however, Simmons enthusiastically threw her weight behind the Mirror - despite the fact that the paper’s front page claimed to “dispel the myth” that Prince Philip disliked Diana and blamed her for the break-up of her marriage, a myth that was detailed at length in The Mirror last November by… Simone Simmons!

From Private Eye, August 2004
Earl Spencer’s new account of how his great great great great great great great grandfather the Duke of Marlborough’s 1704 victory over the French and Bavarians, Blenheim: Battle for Europe, has received much publicity thanks to the tireless efforts of his PR agent, Stuart Higgins. How nice to see that the two men have made up since Spencer famously withdrew Higgins’ invitation to his sister Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997, pointing out that the then Sun editor and his tabloid colleagues had “blood on their hands”.

From Private Eye, June 2005
• “Some will say that this is raking over dead embers, that Diana should be left in peace,” admitted the Sun in an editorial on the day the paper began its serialisation of Simone Simmonds latest book on the princess. “What about the added heartbreak this will cause William and Harry, they will ask? The Sun does not for one moment believe the princes will be hurt by this book. They are not children any more. Their eternal memories of Diana are the joyous years they spent with a devoted mother. What better legacy could she leave them than the knowledge that she found great happiness herself?”

And indeed, what adult could fail to be delighted to learn that their father had “no clue as to a woman’s geography”; that his lovemaking left their mother “uncomfortable and let down”; that she had “the first orgasm she had ever experienced” with a man who “persuaded her to engage in oral sex for the first time in her life”, not to mention that they had been secretly blood tested because their family doubted their paternity? Certainly not the two young men who the Sun declared less than two years ago were “deeply distressed, upset, angry and betrayed” by the “reopening of wounds” when stories appeared about their mother (although presumably that only applied to those which were being published at the time by the Mirror).

• Anyone who doubted that Diana would have discussed such intimate issues with Simmons was invited to call a special Sun phoneline to “hear the tender greetings which reveal the closeness of their friendship”. Opinion was divided amongst those who invested 60p a minute as to which of the three answerphone messages from the late princess best demonstrated the intimacy of the two women – was it the one promising that “I’ll speak to you in the morning cos I think you’re busy”, the one informing her that “I’m in a meeting” or the impressive, “I’m on my way to tennis for an hour, I’ll have this thing switched back on at one, whatever, whatever.”

• Simone Simmons’ claim that in penning two books about Diana she was simply carrying out the wishes of the late princess has been greeted with much scepticism in the media. But one hack who could shed some light on the matter has remained strangely silent.
In the introduction to her first attempt, 1998’s Diana The Secret Years, Simmons revealed that “it was in February 1997, and we she was sprawled on the sofas in her private sitting room at Kensington Palace… She dabbed at her eyes with a Kleenex, laughed again, and ordered me, one day, to write a book and ‘tell it like it is… I want you to tell the truth. It’ll be about time.’ The Daily Mail journalist Richard Kay, one of her other close friends, was with us.”
Curiously, Kay has never commented on this version of events. But then it is possible that, as author of Diana: The Untold Story and innumerable articles about his memories of the princess (and an equal number slagging off those who betray her memory by writing about her), he simply assumed Diana was talking to him at the time.

Declaring an interest: I did my own bit of cashing in in 1999, when I was one of the researchers on Martyn Gregory's superb conspiracy theory-debunking book Diana: The Last Days. An updated version is being published next month. Why not order a copy by clicking on the title of this entry way above?
Oh, and in the winter of 1997 I had a temping job on the orderline for the Daily Mail's Diana Memorial Rose offer, but that's a story for another time...