Holy Moly, scourge of celebrity culture, sells out to Endemol

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The Independent Online

Holy Moly began as an online message board with the intention of puncturing the inflated egos of celebrities. More than eight years later it has joined forces with Endemol, the company behind Big Brother. And to mark the occasion, Jamie East, the internet entrepreneur who has spent most of this century concealing his identity and answering to the name of Mr Holy Moly, has revealed himself to the public.

Endemol UK, one of the largest independent production companies in Britain, has taken a 50 per cent stake in the gossip site, with Tim Hincks, the company's chief executive, declaring: "Holy Moly is a brilliant success story in online entertainment."

The website specialises in skewering showbiz stars such as Paris Hilton, who it pictured yesterday doing a fundraising run for victims of the Japanese earthquake. "Paris Hilton, who was recently refused entry into Japan following her arrest for cocaine possession, has just done a two mile charity run for the country. That's nice," was its typically sarcastic take.

East, 37, said the editorial tone of Holy Moly would not be affected by its relationship with a company that makes shows such as Deal or No Deal and 8 Out of 10 Cats. He said of his loss of anonymity: "It's a lot easier to say 'I'm Jamie', rather than putting on a fencing mask and creeping around."

He said he intended to extend the scope of the website by increasing coverage of film, music, fashion and gadgets.

Celebrity news, he complained, was not what it used to be when Holy Moly could really embarrass the stars and their publicists. "Back in the day it was like shooting fish in a barrel and nobody had a clue how to control a story," he said. "Print showbiz journalists despised the fact that they couldn't hold on to a story for three weeks. It was really good fun and felt like we were causing mischief and changing things."

He still cherishes the moment when a publicist for Madonna screamed at him down the phone from Los Angeles in an attempt to squash Holy Moly's scoop story that her client was divorcing Guy Ritchie.

Since 2002, the humble message board has grown to one million unique users a month. The investment from Endemol will let East to take on more staff and to take the Holy Moly name into television and overseas markets.

But now that he has dropped the Mr Holy Moly moniker, East is not planning to become an onscreen celebrity himself. "I'm not thinking of myself as a Perez Hilton," he said, referring to one of America's best-known gossip bloggers.