Jane Moore: From the 'Solihull News' to the 'Sun'

From the 'Solihull News' to the 'Sun' via the 'Sunday Sport', the columnist Jane Moore has 'earned her bloody spurs' in tabloids
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The Independent Online

Any males brave enough to email Jane Moore criticising her occasionally acid comments on her husband, or "the bloke", as regular readers of her Sun column know him, are likely to receive a pithy response. "Dear Sir, you've obviously got a very small knob," is her stock reply.

Any males brave enough to email Jane Moore criticising her occasionally acid comments on her husband, or "the bloke", as regular readers of her Sun column know him, are likely to receive a pithy response. "Dear Sir, you've obviously got a very small knob," is her stock reply.

If this comes as a surprise to any of the recipients, it shouldn't. Jane Moore is paid to be forthright. She is in the tradition of the Express's Jean Rook and the Mail's Lynda Lee-Potter, fearless in judgement, and more often than not, funny, too; in Private Eye parlance, she is the "Glenda Slagg" of the Sun, opinions always at the ready, and the more cutting the better.

Here's Moore on Boris Becker's lovechild: "Anna Ermakova is the now five-year-old result of Boris Becker's 'five second' liaison in the linen cupboard of London's Nobu restaurant. And that included the cigarette afterwards". On the news that another pop icon is turning author: "Sir Paul McCartney is to publish a children's book. Doesn't he have enough money?" And on sex education: "Many parents claim that it's embarrassment which prevents them from talking to their children about sex. How pathetic. After all, what's more embarrassing? Having a chat about the facts of life or walking down the local High Street with your pregnant 14-year-old?"

Unlike most of the other "Glendas", a term which doesn't bother Moore in the least, her presence is not confined to newspaper print. She has written three novels, the rights to one of which have been bought by the film producer responsible for Charlie's Angels and Sleeping With The Enemy, and is about to embark on a fourth. She had a successful stint as co-host of LBC's breakfast show, has presented for a series of daytime television shows, including This Morning, Crimewatch Daily and Loose Women, and has just been commissioned by Five to script a drama series.

Next month Channel 4 will screen a documentary she is making on the power supermarkets have over a captive clientele in Britain, and Sky 1 will show a programme Moore has written and presented about women who leave their children. "It's all part of the vilification of women," she says. "If a man doesn't live with his children we go, 'oh, what a shame'. If a woman doesn't live with her children, we say 'what's the matter with you?' "

But neither the scope of Moore's activities nor her longstanding commitment to tackle serious issues about the family have made her immune from criticism. Another prominent woman journalist, the former Cosmopolitan editor Marcelle D'Argy Smith, numbered Moore among the female columnists distinguished by their "stunning lack of writing talent or originality". In an article after the death of Lee-Potter, D'Argy Smith wrote: "Maybe the lack of wit and wisdom of Moore, who's a beautiful blonde, simply doesn't matter," and accused her of giving Sun readers "exactly what they want - which is tiny, easy-to-digest, junk food".

Several months later, Moore is still fuming over the slight. "Because I was blonde in my picture by-line," she says, "she dismissed me as some sort of Page Three girl whose breasts had drooped and had been given a column. It was 'she's a blonde bimbo and she writes a load of rubbish'. I was furious about that. The suggestion that if you work on the Sun you must be stupid is one that you might expect from people who aren't in the know. But I wouldn't expect it from a journalist, who ought to know that if you work on the Sun you've got to be good. There aren't any passengers on that newspaper."

Around this time our lunch and our interview are interrupted by an urgent call home. Moore's 18-month-old baby (she also has a teenage daughter from a previous relationship and a stepdaughter) is looking unwell. Fortunately Moore's mother, Pat, who lives two minutes away from her in Wandsworth Common, is on hand.

When she returns, Moore resumes. "Where were we? Oh, yes, I was just getting going on a rant. I've lasted seven years as a columnist on the Sun. I trained as a journalist, I did the weekly paper, the evening paper, I've done the court cases, the parish councils. I've been on the news desk, been woman's editor, features editor, worked for the Mirror, Today, the People, the Sun. They can say they don't like what I write, but if they say that I'm incompetent or I'm not very good at my job, I will come out fighting. I've earned my bloody spurs."

Moore enjoys the documentary-making, in a way that she did not enjoy daytime television. "It's journalism on telly," she says. "I'm crap at the personality presenter bit, because you have to smile so much. When I was doing This Morning I had to winch my face down at the end of the programme because my muscles had frozen in this fake smile." But still she describes television as "a little diversion". Neither is she precious about her novels, the third of which, dot homme, is just out in paperback. "They've not got my blood sweat and tears in them," she says. "They're not my opus." Her "proper job", she says, is the column, about which she is highly proprietorial. "If anyone changes anything in it I go mad."

Jane Moore decided that she wanted to be a journalist at the age of 11. She thinks now that her tabloid leanings were evident at an even earlier age. "I found some books from my infant school where I'd written lots of stories when I was about five or six," she says. "The way they're written is so tabloid. In every single story the main characters all meet a horrible grisly end. If you read it in isolation, you'd think this child is either going to be a serial killer or a tabloid journalist. So I was fond of the sensational even then."

She went to school first in Oxford, where her father was a professor of mathematics, and then Worcester, after her parents divorced. (She hasn't had any contact with her father since, a fact she concedes may have influenced her opinions on the responsibilities of parents and families.) Moore studied journalism at Cardiff, after which she secured a traineeship on the Solihull News. Later she moved to Birmingham, to the Post and Mail newspapers, and started doing shifts in the London offices of the People, an arrangement that became full-time.

"I worked on the Olivia Channon story," recalls Moore, "and the Brighton bomb. I worked on the Harvey Proctor investigation - I had to mind the rent-boy for a week. I was packed off with the company credit card and told to take him away so that none of the other newspapers could get hold of him before the following Sunday's installment of his story." A staff job proved hard to come by, however. So when Moore saw an advertisement, for staff to work on a new paper called the Sunday Sport, which read, "we're going to out-Sun the Sun", she applied.

"I'd always wanted to work on the Sun, but I couldn't get a job there, not even shifts. So I went for an interview above what I now know to be a porn magazine warehouse where the publisher, David Sullivan, kept all his stuff. They showed me lots of pictures of topless women and said 'do they offend you?'. I said no, and they asked me to be news editor. I ought to have been suspicious, because I was only 22 or 23. But at that point I still thought it was going to be like the Sun and run proper stories. So I found myself doing all these TV appearances defending the paper. When I actually saw it, I thought 'oh my god'. Not because of the boobs necessarily, but because the stories were so bad."

Weren't they made up? "No, they were just dreadful. Like, 'aliens turned my son into an olive', or some bloke being banned from his local nightclub for turning up to a wet underpants contest with a cucumber 'down there'. It was a laugh, but I only lasted about a week."

When Moore resigned, she was quoted in Press Gazette saying that she didn't like being behind a desk and that she wanted to go out and about irritating people. A phone call from Kelvin Mackenzie, summoning her to his office, swiftly followed. At the very young age of 23, she was made editor of Bizarre, the Sun's showbiz gossip column. "My letter of appointment said, 'Dear Jane, I am offering you this job as Bizarre editor on a salary of £26,000. I hope you don't turn out to be a dingbat.' I've still got it." But she didn't last long. "I burned out after about a year," she says, "because they expected you to go out clubbing every night to get stories and then be at your desk at 9am the next morning."

It was while she was at the Sun the first time round that Moore stumbled across the story of Sir Elton John's divorce. The paper had recently lost a £1m libel case to the singer, and MacKenzie sent Moore off to a party Sir Elton was holding at his country house. She was instructed to wear a sandwich board on which the Sun's good wishes to him were conveyed, and told not to return to the office if she didn't manage to get a photograph taken of herself with the host.

Late in the evening, after failing to meet the singer and after she had filed her story, Moore charmed one of the security guards into showing her the guest list. Noticing that Renate, the then Mrs John, was not there, Moore made enquiries and was told that there had never been any question of her being present. "The next day Kelvin came over to my desk with the lawyer and said 'are you sure, are you sure she wasn't there?' Then he ran a story saying that the marriage was over, and Elton made an announcement the next day. Kelvin took a punt on it and he was right."

Moore later told this story at her wedding to Gary Farrow - at which Sir Elton was the best man. With her husband having been vice president of communications at Sony Music Entertainment, the singer was not the only guest about which the bridegroom and her colleagues had written over the years. "It was a very strange wedding," she says, "because one half of the room was tabloid journalists and the other half was people like Bob Geldof, Chris Tarrant, Jonathan Ross. My husband's got quite a lot of famous friends because he's been in the business for 30 years. I said, this is either going to be the most fantastic night or it's going to end in a punch-up." Careful attention to the placement averted the latter scenario. "It was: he slagged him off, so I'll put them at opposite ends of the room and so on."

After leaving the Sun Moore had a brief spell as an estate agent, but soon returned to Fleet Street, this time to Today under the editorship of David Montgomery, whom she describes as "her mentor". "He was a brilliant, inspiring editor," she says. "He kept me on this learning curve, moving me from one job to another. He made me news editor, royal correspondent, then features editor. So I really learned my stuff."

With so many executive positions under her belt - she has also been features editor at the Mirror and was woman's editor at the Sun when Stuart Higgins lured her back - and still only 43, had she not thought about being an editor? "I think it crosses your mind. But I always remember coming across a very old, yellowing, stray cutting at the Sun. It said Billy Bloggs, or whoever, died yesterday, and he was editor of the Daily Mail for seven years. I thought, 'here I am, a journalist who's never heard of him, and for that seven years his life probably wasn't his own'. He had huge responsibility, loads of grief, and for what? So that years down the line somebody can not remember you?"

Several of Moore's closest friends have occupied editor's seats, including Tina Weaver, Rebekah Wade and Amanda Platell. But following this Damascene moment, Moore gave up the executive path and returned to feature writing. When Paula Yates was suspended after opium was discovered under her bed, Higgins asked Moore to stand in for her. Yates never returned. "And that's where I found my niche," says Moore.

What does it take to be a good columnist? "You have to have opinions. I could probably go through a newspaper and come up with an opinion on everything. That's why I got the job at the Sun in the first place. I used to sit there in conference ranting and raving about what was on the newslist. But it's also a question of sustaining it. There are some columns where you think they're just doing that shock-jock thing, being controversial for the sake of it. Then two weeks later you read them and they've clearly forgotten what they said before. They are the ones that don't last, because the readers don't trust what they say. That's the one thing I pride myself on, consistency."

How would she characterise her views? "Apolitical. Some of my views you might call right wing, others more left wing." In the latter category falls her campaign against the demonisation of single mothers. "I hate the way that's become a pejorative term," she says, "and that's where I differ from the Sun, which does tend to rant about single mothers occasionally."

But she is free to express whatever opinions she likes, even if they differ from the paper's position. "There's only one time I've been stopped from writing something, and that was on the anniversary of Page 3. I wrote that we should scrap it; not because it's offensive but because it's so hackneyed now that there's FHM, Loaded and all the others. David Yelland wouldn't let me run it."

Did she complain? "No, because David never interfered, and he had a valid reason for asking me not to do it. If he'd asked me not to write about someone because he was having dinner with them on Thursday, I'd have said 'on your bike'. But that never happened."

Encounters with people she has written about, however, have sometimes been proved uncomfortable. "Sinead O'Connor once rang me and threatened to break my legs. That was hilarious, because about four days later it was in the papers that she was training to become a female priest.

"So I wrote about her again, asking if this was an example of saintly behaviour, and put 'holy cow' at the bottom. Then I got four pages of A4 from her, grovelling and saying she didn't know what had come over her."

Moore says that she is never intentionally cruel, but admits to the odd cheap jibe. "There was a documentary called James Nesbitt in India, and I said 'is it a documentary or just the latest marital indiscretion?' Two days later I met him, bizarrely, at the ballet. He didn't mention it. But when I was talking about something in the ballet, he just said: 'Oh, perhaps you can write about that in your column,' and gave me that little eyebrow thing that he does. I'll probably be kinder to him next time because of that."

As such a prominent columnist, Moore knows that she is a role model for aspiring journalists, especially women. But she has little time for the notion that the profession suffers overly from sexism. "People always say that I must have experienced it a lot at the Sun, but I haven't," she says. "The only sexism was that if you were trying to persuade Oliver Reed to do an interview you'd send a pretty girl - not the kind of sexism that assumes that a woman is inferior. At the Sun you're either a good journalist or you're not, and it doesn't matter if you're male, female or ladyboy." This view informs her decision not to join Women In Journalism, despite the organisation being chaired by friends such as Wade and Weaver. "I think it's patronising," she says. "I'll join only when they start Men In Journalism."

Finally, we return to "the bloke". How does he feel about being referred to as the personification of all male faults in her column? "He thinks it's great fun," she says. "I usually ring him up and tell him if he's got a bucket load in the column that day." On one occasion, Moore was presenting on LBC when her husband left a message on her mobile asking her to buy some lavatory paper on her way home. "I thought here I am, getting up at 4am, doing three bloody hours of current affairs every day, interviewing Lord Hurd about British foreign policy. And here's my husband leaving a message asking me to bring home some bog roll." Her revenge? She wrote about it in her column.

"It's great," she says. "Rather than have a marital argument, if I want to make a point I put it in the column."

Glenda would surely approve.

Moore on...

PETE DOHERTY AND KATE MOSS

"Pothead Pete's fast-tracked passport to fame - he's dating the country's biggest supermodel, the woman who sets trends almost as effectively as she sets a bad example to the teenage girls who slavishly follow her every move."

BRITAIN'S POLITICIANS

"In the past, the political parties have always been easily distinguishable by clearly different, well-defined policies and the disparate personalities of the leaders involved. This lot seem to have morphed into one bulbous, uninteresting mass of waffle."

VICTORIA BECKHAM

"I never thought I'd hear myself say it, but poor Posh. She must be living a total nightmare - I believe she has made the classic mistake of hoping another child would bring a warring couple back together again."

RENEE ZELLWEGER

"How disappointing that, rather than an actress who actually espoused the lifestyle that's so crucial to Bridget's character, they chose just another Hollywood pipe-cleaner who clearly regards healthy weight gain much like one might regard a turd under one's shoe."

MICHAEL JACKSON

"Michael Jackson looks freakish and lives a bizarre existence of fairgrounds, pet chimps and oxygen tanks, but it's been said he shouldn't have been put on trial for his lifestyle. This was a man who freely admitted in a documentary that it was 'natural' to have young children sleeping in bed with him. That was the part of his lifestyle he was put on trial for, not the rest."

MARKS & SPENCER

"Why don't they put someone in charge who personifies the target audience? - i.e. a woman."

THE PRINCE OF WALES

"When Prince Charles is

sitting in front of the world's media and still can't hide his curmudgeonly personality, it makes you realise quite how much grumpiness Diana must have endured behind closed doors for all those years."

MARIAH CAREY

"Mariah Carey last had a big hit shortly after the Bismarck sank. Yet this overwhelmingly ghastly woman clearly feels she's a cut above the hoi polloi, insisting on a red carpet for her arrival at a London hotel and keeping guests waiting for a full hour-and-a-half because she'd broken a nail."

BEZ FROM THE HAPPY

MONDAYS

"The hapless Bez has won 'Big Brother'. He needs the money to fend off a bankruptcy order but something tells me a large slice of it will be spent on the drugs that have made him the man he is today. That is a shaking, glazed-eyed space cadet who lives on planet 'weed' and is showing the early signs of becoming as physically wrecked as Ozzy Osbourne."

ABI TITMUSS

"Abi Titmuss was apparently 'shocked' when a crowd of rowdy blokes demanded to see her breasts during a nightclub appearance. Why? Did she think she'd been booked to stand and quote Shakespeare? If you choose to sell yourself like a piece of meat, then I'm afraid that's how you get treated by a baying mob. Abi was being paid to judge a best boxer shorts contest at some club called Zanzibar in Derbyshire. Ah, the glamorous world of showbiz. It doesn't come much headier than that."

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