Exclusive! My tryst with Max
He destroyed Jeffrey Archer. Embarrassed Des Lynam. And broke the news of the Blair baby. But I rather think I have a better story for Max Clifford. `I'm carrying Alan Titchmarsh's secret love child,' I cry. `And I'll reveal all for just pounds 400,000!' So how about it, Max?
It was worse at the beginning of the week after the Archer story first broke. "Two hundred calls a day, including one from a woman to complain that only half her fitted kitchen had arrived. People think Max can fix anything!"
This morning, it's Catherine from GMTV. Then Vanity Fair in Washington. Then Phil Hall, editor of the News of the World. Phil Hall, editor of the News of the World! I could make a few bob here, it suddenly occurs to me. And, yes, I'm impressively quick off the mark.
"Tell Mr Hall a woman who claims to be carrying Alan Titchmarsh's love child is in the office," I cry. "She says Alan likes her in hot-pants and wellingtons! Tell him he can have all this exclusively for pounds 400,000 and a hide-out in Mauritius." The secretaries laugh uproariously. They think I am having them on. They're quite young and, as such, cannot imagine having sex with Alan Titchmarsh. Tragically, I am not so young, and have rather come round to the idea. Would I like a seat? Yes, I say. "In my condition, you do need to rest when you can."
Max looms towards me from the top of those stairs. He has a big, solid head and big, fat, black hairy eyebrows, as if two juicy caterpillars have got quite far up a huge slab of stone and can't be bothered to go any further. I greet him like the old friend he is. Oh, yes. Max and I go way back, to when I was a trainee reporter on the Wimbledon Guardian and, for some reason, he took me out for lunch - egg and chips in a greasy spoon, if I recall.
He remembers me, of course. "Did we ever meet?" he asks. "Well, if you say so." What a wag! I tell him I'm cross with him. Not one exclusive in all the years we've known each other! I would get into quite a state about this, but my doctors have told me it's unwise to get upset during the first trimester. I let him in on my own little secret, naturally. I tell him I'm relying on him to get me the best deal. He doesn't look convinced.
He says, by way of reply, that breaking the story about the Blair baby was good. (Yes, that was him, too). "It was enormous fun, and earned me a HUGE amount of money." No, he cannot tell me the source. Yes, Piers Morgan (editor of The Mirror, to whom he sold the story) was quite taken aback when he summoned him to dinner and told him the news. "He literally choked on his lobster lasagne."
OK, my news isn't quite up there with Cherie's. Still, it doesn't have to be Mauritius. It could be Pontins. Max still doesn't look especially excited. He can have quite a cold, humourless manner.
We move into a smaller room. His personal office, I assume. Here it is "Chief Of Defence In Sex And Security Scandal" and "I Am Having All Eight Babies". I wonder whether he feels any sympathy for Jeffrey. No, he says. "He's as hard as nails. And her." Mary? "Yes. She is very intelligent, but calculating and hard." He says he'd known about the false alibi for years. He says he tried to warn Jeffrey, in fact. "I said to him, six months ago, I don't understand why you're standing for mayor. You're rich, you're successful, don't do it. You know what's going to happen. Your past is going to be raked up again." And? "He just laughed." He adds that if Jeffrey had been happy to carry on as "author and lightweight" he would not have used the information. "But no way should he be doing the job of mayor."
He goes on about Jeffrey, about his "massive desire for power", his "arrogance" and "pomposity". These are qualities, he concludes, "that I just find so ugly. Mellor and Aitken. So pompous. Only one person matters to them, and that's them. They've no desire to help anyone. And such hypocrisy. Mellor was saying `back to basics' and basing his whole image on his family life, and it was all a sham."
I think he thinks he might be on some kind of moral crusade. "Not at all," he says. "I've never lectured anyone on morality. Mellor was a hypocrite."
But exposing Des Lynam as a "love cheat"? Where is the moral justification for that?
"Des was a fair cop. He got the woman to move into a new house, which she thought they were going to be sharing together. He then didn't have the balls to see it through. That's dishonourable."
"Wasn't representing the Stephen Lawrence suspects rather dishonourable, Max?"
"They came to me for advice. I told them that if they wanted to change their public perception they should go on TV, live. I introduced them to Martin Bashir. I thought it unfair they'd never had a chance to put their side of the story."
"Hang on! They had every chance to put their side of the story during the trial, but chose not to."
"They are ignorant young boys. They did what their solicitor told them. I didn't actually represent them. They asked me to but I said no."
"You've represented Mr Al Fayed, though?"
"Yes. I still talk to him daily. I like him. He's very kind, generous, always the first to help people."
"But he's more self-invented than Lord Archer!"
"So what? I don't have a problem with that as long as he doesn't want to become Mayor of London."
"What if he did?"
"I could back that, actually. He would make a great figurehead."
So this is PR, where nothing is absolute, the truth is wherever you wish to find it and your heroes can be who you want them to be. I feel as if I'm in some eerily distorting hall of mirrors. I find Max Clifford hard to reconcile. Destroying people is what he does best. Yet he is keen to stress his Good Works. "I don't make money for Max Clifford. I make it so I can help other people."
Fees for TV appearances go to the Royal Marsden hospital. He represents many charities free of charge. He recently moved from a modest semi in Raynes Park to Walton-on-Thames, yet returns every Wednesday morning to do some shopping for an elderly neighbour "and have a cup of tea with her".
He is devoted to his daughter, Louise (who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and has undergone 12 major operations) and his wife of 32 years, Liz. He and Liz live a frighteningly blameless life that includes "pork chops on Monday and fish and chips from Super Fish in Walton on Thursday". Now I think about it, when we had lunch all those years ago, he gave the cafe owner a big note and told him he would pay for everyone eating there that day. Why?
Maybe what it comes down to is a class hatred that produces a need to assert himself as the saviour of ordinary people: "If someone can't afford to go on holiday, I'll pay for them. I can pay for people's operations." Does he think of himself as a kind Robin Hood? Possibly, but I don't think his prime motivation is spreading goodness. I think it's hate. He hates "the establishment, who are plummy and corrupt". (Is he fond of Mr Fayed because the establishment hates him?) He loathes the Tories, ostensibly because of Louise "and what they did to the NHS". When I ask him where the pleasure comes from in his work, he says: "I don't get any pleasure from seeing someone like Archer hunted down, but people were starting to forget how sleazy the Tories are. Now they are back to square one."
A passionate Labour man, he thinks he may have won the last election for Blair. "I played a part in attaching the word sleaze to the word Conservative... I was happy to contribute to their downfall." I put it to him that New Labour aren't exactly exemplary. One of their first moves was to attack the disabled. He won't have it. "They were trying to cut down on people milking the system."
Yes, he brokered the Ron Davies story. He has showbiz clients. But it's the Antonia de Sanchas and Lady Bucks and Ted Francises that have given him most satisfaction. Through them, he's been able to topple the Mellors and Sir Peter Hardings and Jeffrey Archers.
He may be motivated by revenge. When I ask about his childhood, he recalls large chunks of it in terms of class hurts that obviously still sting. The youngest of four children, he was born and brought up in Wimbledon. "On the top of the hill were the rich folk who were powerful and influential. I was very much bottom of the hill, in a terraced house with an outside toilet and tin bath." His mother, Lilian, was "a lovely, fat, jolly woman who would give her dinner away when my friends called round because there would not be enough for another one". When Max visited friends up the hill, "I'd often be made to wait outside until they had finished their meal".
On his first day of junior school, he bloodied the nose of the headmaster's son because he'd told him to clear off and "I didn't like his attitude". He left school at 15 for a job in Elys, the local department store. He hated it. "The shop was full of these snooty old ladies from Wimbledon village waiting for me to bow and scrape to them, which I couldn't do."
His father, Frank, had come down in the world. Born into a wealthy family who owned residential properties, his first job was collecting rents, but "he couldn't bear to turf people out. He packed it in". His parents - Max's paternal grandparents - did not speak to him for 20 years. He ended up working on the railway. "He was an intelligent man who was not fulfilled," Max says. "He'd spend moody hours on the piano playing his classical music. It could change from light to dark and he'd still be sitting there. He would like to have gone to concerts, but couldn't afford it."
I don't know what to make of Max Clifford. I don't dislike him, but I find the combination of cold vindictiveness and overweening virtue disturbing. Which is the cover-up for which? I'm not sure I'd want him to represent me, if he wasn't the best for the job. So how about it, Max? It needn't be pounds 400,000. It could be 40p, plus expenses if they wish me to pose in hot-pants and wellingtons. He still doesn't look convinced. He says he has to meet someone for lunch. I get the bus home. It's an uncomfortable ride. Ouch! Kicking again. Anyone would think it was laying new turf in there!
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