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Compton Miller finds out which major newspaper diary writers are tops for scandal mongering
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The Independent Online

Daily Mail

Daily Mail

Peter McKay, 63, gossip column legend, reportedly on £250,000 a year. His waspish Ephraim Hardcastle infuriates victims such as Peter Mandelson and his 'samba-dancing companion' Reinaldo da Silva. A fearless columnist for 40 years, McKay relishes his political incorrectness and shock appeal. He was the first diarist to use the word 'blowjob' and to reveal the mysteries of the 'Prince Albert' piercing. Benefits from highly placed tipsters.

Background: Portgordon School, Banffshire.

Scoop: the Boris Johnson/Petronella Wyatt romance.

Don't mention: the 36-year age gap between him and his girlfriend, headhunter Natasha LaSalle.

The Times

Andrew Pierce, 44, gay gadfly from Swindon's best council estate. His People column rarely breaks stories and often digresses into trivia like who stole the plug from The Times's newsroom microwave. But he has a nice line in restrained bitchery, branding Boris Johnson 'the occasional MP for Henley'. But how much longer can the Thunderer carry the Whimperer?

Background: St Joseph's RC Comprehensive, Swindon.

Scoop: Prince Charles banning Camilla from joining the Countryside Alliance march.

Don't mention: Lynton Crosby, Tory adviser during the general election, suing over claims he never thought the party had a chance of winning.

Evening Standard

Sebastian Shakespeare, 39, the brazen bard of Fleet Street. His Londoner's Diary hits more targets than an F-16 jet. He tweaked Cherie Blair for allowing an MoD official to assist Euan with his history, Royal Navy officials for paying sailors to have breast implants and 'Jeff Archer' for his constant battle with the actualité. This ambassador's son keeps the raciest gossip for his memoirs.

Background: Marlborough and St Peter's College, Oxford.

Scoop: Prince William accidentally shooting a protected ibis during his gap year in Africa.

Don't mention: Nigella Lawson, furious over revelation that she spent £2,000 on recipes from another chef.

Mail on Sunday

Katie Nicholl, 28, the self-proclaimed Teri Hatcher of Fleet Street. This beguiling brunette goes partying almost every night. She could wheedle a story out of a cardinal in the rush hour. Elizabeth Jagger dumped Sean Lennon through the column. But don't expect her to know the difference between a marquess and a marquis.

Background: Channing School, Highgate, and the University of East Anglia.

Scoop: Prince William and Kate Middleton's (temporary) split last year.

Don't mention: Joan Collins, who spat nails after Katie alleged that her wig had blown off into a tree while filming.

The Guardian

Marina Hyde, 31, the cheeky Sultana of stylised gossip. Breaking stories rarely bothers this paragon of the in-joke, double entendre and throwaway line. She needles Tony Blair with accusations of having had Botox treatment and Richard Littlejohn with her annual audit of the number of gay references in his Sun column. But this nifty painter and decorator's daughter sure ain't Matthew Norman.

Background: Downe House, Newbury, and Christ Church, Oxford.

Scoop: Outed British Council press officer Harry Cummins as a Muslim-bashing columnist in The Sunday Telegraph.

Don't mention: saucy emails and Piers Morgan.

The Sun

Victoria Newton, 33, the red tops' gossip sharpshooter. When it comes to pop exposures this Liverpool teacher's daughter leads the pack. Her Bizarre column revealed that Kate Moss was dating pop baddie Pete Doherty, Rod Stewart was marrying Penny Lancaster and boy band Busted was splitting up. Big travel budget allows her to beat rivals by reporting direct from the Cannes Film Festival and the Oscars.

Background: Rushcliffe Comprehensive School, Nottingham, and Newnham College, Cambridge. Scoop: Bob Geldof to launch Live8. (She had Bob yelling at her for breaking the embargo!)

Don't mention: Geri Halliwell, 'who hates me for writing so many nasty articles about her'.

Sunday Telegraph

Tim Walker, 40, the Noël Coward of diarydom. This foppish, child actress's son maintains the rigorous William Hickey standards. His Mandrake scoops rivals with tales such as Colin Montgomerie's latest dalliance and Sir John Mortimer's 'love child' by actress Wendy Craig. But the column remains a Posh 'n' Becks-free zone. Next stop? A TV gossip show.

Background: Millfield.

Scoops: revealing that Camilla was banned from sitting next to Charles at the Grosvenor/van Cutsem wedding earlier this year, causing them to boycott the event.

Don't mention: an exotic personal tie.

Daily Mirror

Jessica Callan, 30, Jennifer Aniston with a steel pen. The daughter of Fleet Street legend Paul Callan pioneered the 3am Girls format. She revealed that Kate Beckinsale had swapped boyfriend Michael Sheen for film director Len Wiseman and that Scarlett Johansson snogged Benicio del Toro in a lift. But the 3am Girls have seen better days and Jessica should reinvent herself as a star interviewer.

Background: Stowe.

Scoop: Charlotte Church revealing that she had beaten up her 'w*****' ex-boyfriend for betraying details of their romance to the press.

Don't mention: rumours that the 3am Girls are about to be disbanded.

The Independent

Guy Adams, 27, viper of the subtle innuendo. Pandora's mini-Londoner's Diary rattles cages from Westminster to the White House. Seditious, satirical and racy, he knows how to expose secrets without going too far. But royals, reality shows, Tara/Tamaras and football studs are low on his target list. A future Taki?

Background: Rugby School and the University of Sheffield.

Scoop: Labour's anti-Semitic flying pigs election posters.

Don't mention: Barbara Cassani, former head of GB Olympic bid who sued successfully for £60,000 when he was at the 'Telegraph'

Daily Mail

Richard Kay, 48, Fleet Street's best-informed royal-watcher. Whereas his predecessor Nigel Dempster lived for his vendettas, this ascetic workaholic writes a less controversial column. He eschews personal publicity and is rarely spotted on the celebrity circuit. But his slush fund and brilliant deputy Helen Minsky guarantee him all the best gossip.

Background: Ipswich School.

Scoop: Prince Charles invited four old flames - Lucia Santa Cruz, Lady Jane Wellesley, Amanda Knatchbull and Sabrina Guinness - to his wedding to Camilla.

Don't mention: his 'exclusive' that Prince Andrew was going to marry ex-model Amanda Staveley.

Sunday Express

Adam Helliker, 45, described by a jealous rival as 'the David Brent of gossip'. Cast in the Dempster mould, this inquisitive Somerset group captain's son has a photographic memory for stories. Despite having no slush fund to reward tipsters he produces exclusives such as Prince William's doomed romance with Jecca Craig and Jade Jagger stealing Kate Moss's boyfriend Dan Macmillan.

Background: King's School, Bruton.

Scoop: Zara Phillips breaking up with boyfriend Richard Johnson.

Don't mention: Princess Diana's address book and royal souvenir hawkers.

Daily Telegraph

Celia Walden, 28, daughter of former Tory MP George Walden, has never let inexperience get in the way. Her Spy column specialises in leaked PR stories such as Sandra Howard's two-book deal. She infuriated Tory traitor Shaun Woodward by revealing that he had bought a £6m home on Long Island.

Background: Westminster School and Newnham College, Cambridge.

Scoop: Coleen McLoughlin to pose for Vogue.

Don't mention: Celia's brief dalliances with chefs Tom Aikens and Jean-Christophe Novelli.

Compton Miller is the former editor of the William Hickey column, Daily Express.