HOWWE MET ANTONIA DE SANCHA AND MAX CLIFFORD

I told her: `Now the media are going to work for you. You're going to control the game rather than being the victim of it'

Antonia de Sancha, 33, was born in London. She trained as an actress at RADA from 1986-89. In 1992, she became the subject of media attention on account of her affair and acrimonious split with the MP, David Mellor. Now working on a film about Purcell, she lives in London with her husband Clive.

Max Clifford, 51, was born in Wimbledon. A former journalist, he founded Max Clifford Associates, a PR company, in the late Sixties. His clients have included Diana Ross, Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando and Freddie Starr. He lives in London with his wife Elizabeth and their 23-year-old daughter Louise.

ANTONIA DE SANCHA: We first met at a caf in New Malden soon after the story about the David Mellor affair broke. At that time, I was being looked after by a theatrical agent who suggested I should get in touch with Max, so I called him. He said: "I know this wonderful place I'd like to meet at. It's terribly sophisticated and smart." So off I went, expecting this glamorous setting, and instead it was a greasy caf.

But we got on very well straight away. He struck me as a down-to-earth, no bullshit person, which was exactly what I needed at the time. As soon as I met him, I thought, "Yes, I like this man." There's a lot of people in PR who pretend to be something they're not, and you can see through that rapidly. Max wasn't like that. There was nothing superficial about him.

I immediately felt that he was very strong. At the time I was emotionally distressed because of all the stories about my affair in the newspapers. He made me feel relaxed. I instantly began to feel better when he took control. I remember going to a film premire with him, the evening after we met at the caf, and I was absolutely terrified of the attention. We both walked down this long aisle lined with people, and when we reached the end they all started screaming my name. I was sweating like a pig and shaking but Max kept saying: "Just smile and be calm." I'll never forget that moment. Had I been with someone even slightly neurotic, I probably would have flipped.

I went to him first for some mature advice. Aside from the publicity, I needed guidance. All the papers were printing stories about me that were completely untrue. I found out later that someone I thought was trustworthy had spied on me and set up the whole thing. When something like that happens, you become completely paranoid. I used to think I was a brilliant judge of character, but look where it got me. It was devastating to find out I couldn't trust anybody, which is why it was such a relief to meet Max.

I think he became angry that Mellor had given me so little support. My affair with him had finished simply because he had refused to acknowledge the fact that I felt like hell and he wasn't very interested in me at all. I think he actually got a real kick out of appearing as the bad boy of politics. Being an incredibly arrogant man, he felt that he could never be caught out.

It was frightening being thrust into the limelight, and the hardest part was knowing that people thought I had broken the story. Max stepped in to stop the lies and really try to make as much out of it as possible. He made me money, which was certainly the main objective, and why not? That was great and has stood me in good stead.

He also gives me confidence. I've learnt an awful lot from him: mainly, not to take things so seriously that you could drive yourself insane. I admire the way he can laugh at himself and me as well. There's this banter we always enter into - he takes the piss out of me and I pretend to get wound up. His nickname for me is "Manic Mavis".

He also has a very serious side to him, which I have an immense respect for. I like the fact that there are more meaningful issues in his life than work. His wife and daughter are the most important things to him. I know them very well, especially his daughter Louise, whom I admire. She's been through so many operations because of her arthritis, yet she always seems so strong.

I suppose my friendship with Max is like a father-and-daughter relationship. I don't know how I would have managed without him.

MAX CLIFFORD: When I first met Antonia it took me about 10 seconds to realise that she had absolutely no confidence. She was incredibly nervous, frightened and upset. To be fair, in terms of what she was going through with the media, I think anyone would have reacted in the same way. Suddenly to find yourself splashed all over the newspapers and to hear everyone calling you all sorts of names can be terrifying. I felt sorry for her because I knew enough about David Mellor to know that what she told me added up. The more I got to know, the more I disliked the man. I saw her as more of a victim than anything else.

As soon as I sat down in that caf I wanted to take her case on. I liked her immediately. She came across as someone who was honest and open. I tried to get her to see things in perspective and to make the best of a bad situation. I've taught her how to exploit the media in the same way that they exploited her.

The night we first met, we went to a film premire and she was so frightened I had to hold on to her arm to stop her from running. Then I told her: "Hold on, now the media are going to work for you. You're going to be controlling the game rather than being a victim of it."

There was a certain attraction in her navety. She wasn't calculating about her affair with David Mellor. She enjoyed it, and you can understand that. But she didn't deserve what came along. All her friends were selling stories on her, and I saw how distraught she was. I used to get concerned at times. In the early days, it wouldn't have surprised me if she had committed suicide.

Antonia will always get hurt. She's very vulnerable and wears her feelings on her sleeve. I don't think it would take too much to damage the confidence she's built up. I find a lot of her qualities attractive. She's naturally sensitive, although she tries not to show it.

Antonia conducts herself in such a majestic way - so regal and upright with her head in the air. If that exterior were real, she wouldn't appeal to me one bit. But I know it's only her barrier and a way of protecting herself. It's the part she hides behind. Underneath, she is caring, nice and vulnerable - that's the person I really like.

In a lot of ways it's a father and daughter relationship. You're there to do what you can for her. I'm used to drama and crisis in my life. She wouldn't support me in the same way, but then I always take care of my own problems.

Sometimes she'll phone me up late at night asking for advice, and that's fine. I understand her needs and what's going on in her life. I know that when she's emotionally upset, she comes to me and wants to talk things through.

Antonia knows that I'll always say the same thing to her face as I would behind her back. In fact, I'm more likely to be complimentary behind her back than I am to her. I'll always tell her things as I see it. She's aware that her business is full of bullshit and mock sincerity, That's not what I'm about. I'm there to stand by her and be as supportive as I can. !

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