CV: MIKE WALKER Gossip columnist, 'The National Enquirer'

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The Independent Online
I knew I wanted to be a journalist by the time I was 12 or 13 years old. I just knew I could write. I grew up in Boston, and was a very precocious child; by nine I was reading Shakespeare and Dante.

Then, my father, a military officer, retired to run a chicken farm out in the country, so I was around kids who were learning to trap animals and fish. And so, when I got into school, I was crazy bored; we were studying Ivanhoe, and I thought that was kids' stuff. Being a wilful kid, I ran away from home - I was ready to go out and work - and, by 16, I'd managed to get local papers to accept feature pieces.

What happened then was that I went to Japan, courtesy of the United States Air Force, and there, I impressed the editor of the Air Force newspaper. I'd just asked if I could help out, and suddenly I was a real journalist. I started submitting pieces to Japanese newspapers - I was fluent in Japanese by this point - and the editor of one of the Tokyo dailies became interested in me, giving me an evening job.

I was then approached by the biggest Tokyo daily to work for them, after I'd finished in the Air Force; they managed to pull some strings so I could stay in Japan. I also started doing some work for the wire services, such as the International News Service, and then I got a really good gig interviewing every personality who hit town for the NBC Monitor Show - Sean Connery, for instance, at the height of Bond-mania.

It was a really exciting place to be, but, after about 10 years in the Far East, I decided enough was enough. So I asked myself where the most wonderful place was to be in the mid-Sixties, and it was, of course, London.

My best friend was a Japanese movie actor and singer. One day he said he was touring Japan the next month, and asked me to go with him. He said he'd train me up as a singer, and concocted an act for me. So I went on tour with him, and started advising him on how he should do his show, and one day he asked if I'd like to manage him. First I said no, but we both wanted to go abroad, and so we used his band as the vehicle to get us to London.

There, we formed a band called Samurai - which, being a journalist, I instinctively knew how to publicise. So I veered out of journalism - I was making a lot more money in show business - but I kept my hand in by freelancing. What intervened then was a wife and two small children, and because I wanted them to have American roots, I decided that I had to give up the show business thing and go back to the States.

So in 1970 I went to New York, where I ran into Steve Dunleavy - Murdoch's man in the United States. And he said: "The biggest thing in the United States is going to be a paper called the National Enquirer." All I knew was the New York Enquirer, which ran gory stories such as "I Boiled My Baby and Ate It", but Steve said that the guy who owned it, Gene Pope, had changed the name to the National Enquirer, and that it was going to have an emphasis on show business. Steve recommended me to Pope, and I was brought in as chief writer, to give the paper a style.

Pope said we were going to cover show business the way the Washington Post covered politics - warts and all. And he would spend any amount of money to get a story. When Princess Grace died we chartered a jet to get to France to question the farmer on whose property she had crashed. And every reporter on that job had $30,000 in cash in his pocket, to bribe cops, customs - whatever they had to do.

Eventually I became a columnist, and the title became a household name. When Elvis died, we went off to Memphis and convinced a relative that because people were in such shock, they wanted a last look at him - and so we got a picture of him in his coffin, which we ran on the front page. It was outrageous, and every copy was sold within about two days. We also got the pictures of the presidential candidate Gary Hart with Donna Rice sitting on his lap that ended his political career, and, during the OJ Simpson trial, we were recognised by everybody (including the New York Times) as the "bible" of the case.

We will now make our forays into television: we had two TV specials last year, and, since we launched in Britain four years ago, I've been able to come here every year and spout the glories of the Enquirer, and get people to buy more copies - which they are doing.

Interview by Scott Hughes