Media: Can a cut-glass Brit cut Kitty Kelley to the quick? Not if she sees him coming
British journalists in the US have a new role now: talking Kitty Kelley or even talking to Kitty Kelley. Our man's moment came on the high- profile Gerraldo show. Stiletto in hand he went off to puncture the sycophancy of her media round. Did she see him coming? Did she see him off? Or did she set him off on a path to new visibility in mobile homes from coast to coast?
To explain. For two weeks now I have been nurturing another career, or call it a crash course, in parallel with my job as The Independent's man in New York. I am now a resident Brit talking head, called up constantly by the news-come-chat shows that have spread like mould across the television schedules of America.
The topic used to be the monarchy and its fate post-Diana. Then, starting a week ago, it was dishing the dirt on the book that dishes the dirt: The Royals, Kitty Kelley's trash-trawling biography of the Windsors, which its publishers dare not sell in Britain.
Passing the occasional hour knocking Ms Kelley's cream-puff tome soon became quite fun. Never mind that with every show, whatever the likes of me have got to say, her sales entered another layer of the stratosphere. Then, on Thursday, came The Call. Would I do Rivera Live, a 9pm talk show that tackles legal issues on the cable channel, CNBC? Among the other guests - Kelley herself. Though Ms Kelley had been giving one-on-one interviews all week, this would be her first with a wider panel.
It soon became clear that it wouldn't be quite as easy as that.
In the afternoon, the producer is on the phone: Ms Kelley is willing to appear with two other "experts" booked for the show - Richard Mineards, a Brit royal-watcher who lives in New York, and an English freelancer in Los Angeles called Martin Lewis - but not with me. She, or her handlers, had specifically nixed The Independent.
Almost flattered, I leave for the studio anyway. At the least, I could join the others and the programme's host, Gerraldo Rivera, for the last half-hour, when Ms Kelley would no longer be on. And if, before broadcast time, I could charm Ms Kelley into changing her mind, so much the better.
Charm Ms Kelley? That's a funny one. When Ms Kelley is around there is only one person who does the charming, and that's her. From the moment she graces the "green room" - the holding space for guests for such shows, with stale biscuits and coffee - I am in awe as she casts her spell.
Petite and attractive with great cheekbones and a perfectly sculpted bob of blond hair, it is almost as if she has observed and absorbed every intonation of English nobility at afternoon tea, or at least the cliche of English nobility at afternoon tea. She sits, she simpers and inclines her head. Here is a first-hand glimpse of how Ms Kelley must have worked all those sources she has claimed on her four years of research trips to London. Many a man must have buckled. With flashing eyes and pursed lips, she has that Thatcher capacity to flirt to the point of mesmerising. She closes in on Mineards at once to swap easy chatter about common acquaintances.
My clumsy attempts at ingratiation are in vain. Nothing to do with me, Kelley insists, those eyes working overtime. Blame for my being frozen out is laid with her publicist, Lynne Goldberg, who has settled on the sofa beside me. "I don't want anyone ganging up on Kitty," Ms Goldberg says. The show begins and I remain in green-room exile.
The show is a triumph for Ms Goldberg. Kitty, it quickly emerges, has nothing to fear here. Her three interlocutors - Mineards, Lewis and Rivera himself - gasp approvingly at each "revelation" dug out from the book and vie with each other to offer the next profound remark about the irreversible crumbling of the monarchy.
Forty-five minutes through the show, I am still in the green room - Ms Goldberg is apprising me of the importance of these chat shows and how they have rendered traditional book-signing tours almost unnecessary - and I am in a rage. This is more than a puff for Kitty Kelley, it is a naked infomercial. Perhaps this was the producer's strategy all along.
Suddenly, the make-up lady is back upon me and in the two minutes of a commercial break I am rushed to my own seat and Rivera coffee mug alongside Mineards. My job, with just 12 minutes of live airtime to go, is clear. I must stop all of this.
Rottweiler has never been my middle name, but I did try. Friends, who of course are hardly objective in such matters, are still cheering now. I go on air, armed with page numbers and passages, to show how the sourcing in the book is sloppy and unconvincing. Would this put the wind through her coiffure?
An inquiry as to just what was she doing, in chapter six for instance, so glibly quoting a duke who had been dead for more than 30 years, at least sends her scurrying for the lengthy chapter notes at the back of the book. And why, if she was so sure of this slew of doubtful tittle- tattle and recycled scandal for which she had been paid so many millions, did she not dare to publish in Britain? It is not as if - as had been implied all week - the shelves of WH Smith's and Waterstone's are devoid of unauthorised biographies.
When the red light went off for an advertising break, there I was sitting inches from the author during the advertising break. Eyes still alight, Ms Kelley leaned across and, with delicately pitched sarcasm, urged me to stay on the same track playing the "pompous Brit reporter".
And so I did, further opining somewhat piously in, according to Kelley, my "cut-glass Brit accent". (You would have thought she would have liked it, but never mind.)
In a blink it was all over.
Will I have stalled her sales at all with my garbled assault? Of course not. It was a hopeless effort, except as a little advertisement for myself to producers of other shows who may now want to book me. (Next stop: a live appearance with Nancy Sinatra tonight, who will spew scorn on the book Kelley wrote about her father, Frank.)
Before I had gone on, Ms Goldberg had suggested that we have lunch this week. I am not sure whether that will happen now. I do, however, still have my copy of The Royals to treasure. With author's inscription: "To David. Read each chapter and then push on for a little documentation in the chapter notes. Don't forget to wave to me when you collect your Pulitzer!! Best, KK."
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