Gossip brings unholy profits

Celebrities that haven't been stung by the Holy Moly website should beware. As Emily Turner discovers, it's extending its claws across an expanding multi-media empire
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The Independent Online

The rise of Holy Moly, the UK's most vitriolic celebrity gossip website which showbiz agents, managers and PRs would love to see condemned to cyber hell, seems unstoppable. In just four years, it has mushroomed from an underground insiders' private message board to a bile-spewing mailout with nearly 200,000 subscribers. In the past 12 months it has clinched the contract for Channel 4's music website, in a joint venture with pop music gossip site Popjustice.com, and published a book on how to survive modern life and media culture. Now it is to enter the world of TV production with the resurrection of the celebrity questions show Star Test.

This cult show broadcast by Channel 4 at the end of the 1980s featured guests such as Malcolm McLaren and Chris Eubank. It is remembered for Robert Plant's famous yes or no answers to every question, Kim Wilde running out in tears after five minutes and pop star Sonia's excruciating performance, which was later parodied on French and Saunders.

Mr Holy Moly is a tall, dark-haired, 33-year-old media man who shrugs off his success saying, "Someone has to make money out of celebrity gossip on the internet so it may as well be me. I find it hilarious that it's actually turning into a proper job and I'm making a living taking the piss out of stupid people."

He can't hide his excitement at how Holy Moly is growing. "HMPJ, the company I set up with Peter Robinson from Popjustice, has just won the tender to produce the content for Chart Show Channels' websites." From January HMPJ will be working on the online versions of all the Chart Show Channels' stable of music stations: The Chart Show, B4, True Movies, Pop and Tiny Pop, as well as those it produces for Sky - The Amp, Flaunt and Scuzz.

"While doing that deal, I pitched the idea of resurrecting Star Test using the Holy Moly brand to Keith Macmillan, the owner of Chart Show Channels, who conceived and produced the original series in the late 80s. The working title is The Holy Moly Interrogation!'. The stars will still be quizzed by a computer but in our twisted, risky way. Nothing will be sacred and they'll have to work bloody hard."

Mr Holy Moly is speaking in a dark London bar, chosen for the launch for the Holy Moly! Rules of Modern Life book. With satirical illustrations, the new Holy Moly tome informs that there's nothing so overrated as a bad shag and nothing so underrated as a good shit and Lenny Henry isn't very funny. It is the perfect antidote for anyone suffering disillusionment with society. The book hit the top 10 in Amazon's hot list two weeks prior to release and is already in its second print run. With about 50 rules submitted by the public each day, there's plenty of material for further volumes.

A self-confessed internet addict, Mr Holy Moly first started on message boards in 2000. He became an editor on notorious gossip site Popbitch.com but was frustrated when it became less underground. In 2001 he set up Holy Moly and within six months he had attracted 40 of the best gossip posters to his invite-only message board. He now has 100 moles, 14.5 million page impressions and two million unique users per month.

Popbitch is given full credit for starting the genre he is now developing. "Gossip is part of British life now," he explains. "I defy anyone in any circle, job or class system not to gossip, whether it's about celebrities or Doris across the street. If there wasn't that need for it then sites like mine, Popbitch or Heat magazine wouldn't exist."

He sees himself as the voice of reason in a deluded industry and the website's gossip mongering weekly email regularly eats away at the Beckhams, David Walliams and Robbie Williams, as well as columnists including Liz Jones of the London Evening Standard and Neil Sean of Metro newspaper and Sky News.

He says he feels disappointed by Kate Moss, who had previously been a model celebrity. "Until very recently she was a brilliant celebrity who played the rules: never deny, never comment, never do interviews, looked great on camera and had a massive air of mystery around her. If she hadn't sued, those photos would never have caused the furore that they did. She shat on her own doorstep."

He adds, "A good celebrity is someone who knows that they have a ridiculous job. They understand that being a celebrity is actually stupid and have fun with it. Simon Cowell, for example, I think has a lot of fun being Simon Cowell. And his judgement is pretty bang on, apart from Zig and Zag and the Power Rangers."

James Brown, Greg Dyke, Chris Morris, Stephen Merchant, Piers Morgan and Dawn Airey are whom he admires for being "pioneers in their field". He also fancies meeting Max Clifford for a long lunch, so he can become "the old mad uncle I never had".

When he was named the 99th most influential person in UK media this year, he says his father - a senior media figure - was the proudest he'd ever seen him, but secretly jealous that he had beaten him to it. This competitive streak to achieve as much as his father is partially what's driving him, he admits.

While his business is to scoop the red-tops, he says he wouldn't say no to a column deal. "The problem is that Rav, the 3am girls and Victoria Newton are now too well known. They can't get close enough to the gossip and they need to look after their tips properly with hard cash. The tabloids are missing out on the gossip because insiders feel they don't get any credit or the story gets out of proportion. They get more satisfaction giving it to me, as it's like kicking the door down from within."

Although a series of websites, a book and a TV show would be enough to satisfy most wannabe media moguls, he's thinking of the next big thing. Holy Moly already has a deal to provide celeb gossip for a BSkyB mobile phone service and is also supplying a cartoon strip to FHM. He leaves revealing he's thinking about taking the brand around the world as a franchise.

But is Mr Holy Moly not in danger of turning into the kind of self-promoting media figure that he attacks? "I am well aware that I am in danger of becoming the sort of celebrity twat that I despise," he says. "I will refuse to do any press after this book promotion has finished."

The Holy Moly Rules of Modern Media

1 The lower the income the greater the number of Sky TV channels people subscribe to.

2 Murdoch Showbiz Columnists: Originality is the art of concealing your source. (See also Goodman, Clive.)

3 BEN is the best channel known to man and God Loves Prostitutes should be up for an award.

4 Runners in the TV industry, if you can keep your head when all around you are losing theirs, you obviously don't understand the severity of the situation.

5 An Editor who smiles in the face of adversity probably has a scapegoat.

6 IT freaks! If all the expertise I had to show for three years' higher education was pressing CTRL, ALT, DELETE I wouldn't look so fucking smug. So toddle off and email your Russian bride telling her how you keep the wheels of business turning.

7 If you own a scooter and are not in advertising, you are a wanker.

8 If you are in advertising, you are a wanker with or without a scooter.

9 Broadsheet Readers: Save time when describing music by simply saying, "It sounds a little bit like Groove Armada."

10 Every summer, every women's magazine will run an article entitled Pack It In advising you how to pack a suitcase and to remember your sun cream. Nobody realises that it is in fact the same article they have been running since 1979.

11 Sunday newspapers, why not devote four pages in your review section every summer on the books supposedly clever people will be reading on holiday this year? In fact, don't! Quite frankly, if I'm not up to speed on just what tedious political biography Andrew Marr will be flicking through as his tiny, hairy body blisters in the Tuscan sunshine then I might as well end it all now. Cheers.

12 Everyone in "The Media": The public ALWAYS know best, otherwise they vote with their feet.

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