One of the most expensive contracts in newspaper history was severed after four months yesterday when Jason Fraser, the photographer known for his intrusive pictures of royalty, resigned from Richard Desmond's publishing empire.
Mr Desmond, best known for his adult titles, hired Mr Fraser to supply the Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star and OK! with the cream of celebrity photographs.
Mr Fraser, hailed as the king of the paparazzi, was ranked even higher than the editor of the Express, with a wider, roving role. He also had responsibility for advertising and promotions across the group's stable of titles.
His salary was reported to be about £1m, including a bonus related to circulation increase. But Mr Desmond was said to be bitterly disappointed with the lack of exclusive photographs. The biggest blow Mr Fraser suffered was his agreement to pay £79,000 for supposedly exclusive pictures of the Las Vegas wedding of Chris Evans and Billie Piper. But, unknown to Mr Fraser, an amateur photographer who was there sold similar pictures to rival newspapers for a fraction of the price.
Mr Fraser, who is enormously protective of his reputation, is known to be furious at criticism of the deal from within the Express.
"When I came here I did a lot of soul-searching about what was going to be a very different way of life and way of working," he said yesterday. "It was a bold move on both our parts – a new style of relationship. For me, although my relationship with Richard is still excellent, I have discovered I am better suited to living and falling by my decisions. I spent 18 years running my own outfit and it has been a culture shock for me not to be able to necessarily make any decision I wanted to at any time without consultation."
His appointment as an executive director of the Express and its parent company, Northern & Shell, in March stunned Fleet Street picture editors, who were left wondering how they would be able to compete without his supply of pictures.
His departure will be a source of considerable embarrassment for Mr Desmond, who negotiated Mr Fraser's unprecedented contract. Yesterday Mr Desmond said: "I have accepted Jason's resignation and I would now like to place on the record our thanks to him for the work he has done for us.
"Naturally we wish him continued success. We look forward to continuing the special relationship between his company and Northern & Shell, which will give our titles an edge over our rivals." When Mr Fraser joined Northern & Shell, rival picture editors were swift to form new alliances that soon diminished his power to secure exclusive pictures. Arch-rivals including The Sun and The Mirror began to pool their buying-power to prevent Mr Fraser dominating the market.
"One Express insider said: "Richard has not got the exclusives he wanted and Jason's entrepreneurial spirit has been hemmed in by Northern & Shell's corporate culture." Others said Mr Fraser grew weary of the daily, public dressing-downs by Mr Desmond.
Mr Fraser, famed for the exclusive pictures of Diana, Princess of Wales kissing Dodi Fayed, had only two other exclusives in his four months, a picture of the actress Emma Thompson on the beach and Davina McCall on holiday in Mauritius. He is said to be considering a return to his photographic agency and an offer with a rival newspaper group.Reuse content