Stephen Glover: Will Rupert enjoy this modern tale of Antony and Cleopatra?
Monday 08 June 2009
Rebekah Wade, editor of Britain's best selling daily newspaper The Sun, is known neither by her readers nor the general public. She has always avoided appearing on radio or television to defend her paper, or to offer an opinion about the state of the world.
So it is a great shock to see a four-page spread about Rebekah in the current edition of Tatler magazine. It is true that she herself remains grandly off-stage, as media royalty must, and is not quoted directly. Nonetheless the life of "the dazzling redhead editor" is illuminated by the man she is planning to marry this month, a former jockey and trainer turned writer and journalist called Charlie Brooks.
Mr Brooks, who is an old Etonian, and I would guess a bit of a rogue in the nicest possible sense, describes his ideal Sunday. He and Rebekah rise early "at their two-bedroom taupe-painted barn outside Chipping Norton". They then scoot off to Oxford airport to board a (presumably private) aeroplane for Venice, where they snatch lunch at Harry's Bar. By evening time they are back at Wilton's restaurant in Jermyn Street, where Charlie likes to put away nine native oysters, washed down by a glass of Meursault.
We are told by Vassi Chamberlain, the author of the gushing piece, that when not in Venice Charlie and Rebekah like to go on holiday with Elisabeth Murdoch and her husband Matthew Freud on their yacht, or stay with "the Oppenheimer Turners at their house in St Tropez (where they hang out at Club 55.)" They spend weekdays at their flat in Chelsea harbour. Charlie is evidently completely infatuated with his temptress.
It sounds quite an agreeable existence, if perhaps a little aimless, and certainly very far removed from the lives of most Sun readers, let alone previous Sun editors. Vassi Chamberlain breathlessly describes the golden couple as being at the centre of the Chipping Norton set, which is not to be confused with the Chipping Camden set, or indeed the one at Chipping Sodbury.
Apart from Charlie and Rebekah, it comprises such glittering figures as Jeremy Clarkson and his wife; the afore-mentioned Elisabeth Murdoch, daughter of Rupert, and her husband Matthew, a PR man; Charles Dunstone, the co-founder of Carphone Warehouse; and various county pals of Charlie's, some of whom sound even dottier than you might imagine. One gets an impression of pretty constant sluicing at a succession of lunches and parties.
And, my goodness, the editor of The Sun has become so very grand. Vassi describes how "a portrait of Rebekah by artist Jonathan Yeo, flamed-haired and smiling, sits almost forgotten [my italics] against a side wall." How insouciant!
Perhaps the biggest shock of all in an article of jaw-dropping revelations is the manner in which the 78-year-old Rupert Murdoch, proprietor of The Sun and the world's richest media mogul, is accorded a small walk-on part by Vassi. He is a figure as it were on the edge of Rebekah's court, playing cards on the Freud's yacht with Charlie, Bono (can you believe it?) and Emily Oppenheimer Turner "who is very much part of the new Oxfordshire set that has built up around Charlie and Rebekah".
There was a time when Rupert Murdoch did not pass his days playing cards with the likes of Bono. A time when he did not encourage his editors to swank around or become too big for their boots – not that any of them has come close to Rebekah as described by her Charlie. Larry Lamb, Andrew Neil and perhaps Kelvin MacKenzie all had to be cut down to size. When the Tatler piece is faxed to Mr Murdoch in New York, will he screw up his furrowed face and wonder whether she is behaving more like a tycoon than an editor?
I don't suppose any British newspaper editor has ever had the kind of life-style that Vassi Chamberlain invokes. It makes that gadabout Andrew Neil look like a boring stay-at-home. If the secret of being a good editor is to live a life not unlike that of most of your readers, or at least to be in a position to identify with their problems and preoccupations, Rebekah Wade does not obviously pass the test.
Given her habitual antipathy towards publicity of any sort, one can only assume that Charlie spilt the beans with her full approval. (If not, the nuptials, due at St Bride's in Fleet Street in a week or two, may have to be deferred a while.) My feeling is that she has outgrown the bonds of The Sun, and may have set her sights on a grander editor's chair, or perhaps a chief executive's office.
But would even that suffice? One suspects that all the glories of Chipping Norton may not be able to contain her much longer. The world itself is hardly big enough for this latter-day Cleopatra and her devoted Antony.
Berlusconi's ire is an indication of how he runs his own papers
Accusations sometimes tell us more about the accuser than the accused, as in the case of the Italian Prime Minster Silvio Berlusconi and The Times.
The paper recently carried a first leader criticising Berlusconi for alleged womanising, which it suggested could no longer be regarded as a private matter. No one, apart possibly from the Marquis de Sade, would have disagreed. The Times also ran an unexceptionable piece by Mary Beard following revelations of Berlusconi's friendship with an aspiring teenage model which has driven his wife to divorce.
The Italian Prime Minister now accuses the paper of running these pieces as a vendetta. Its owner, Rupert Murdoch, is at odds with the Italian government over its introduction of a 20 per cent tax rate on Pay TV companies, which has affected his Sky Italia business.
Is it likely that Mr Murdoch would instruct the editor of The Times to attack Mr Berlusconi? The paper needs no encouragement to do so since Berlusconi's shortcomings are so vividly apparent. Other newspapers have required no vested interest in order to find fault with him.
Silvio Berlusconi is a media owner. His automatic assumption that Mr Murdoch is behind attacks in The Times suggests to me that he would happily tell his newspapers to savage his business opponents.
*Let me give a word of advice to the next leader of the Labour party, as well as to David Cameron. When The Guardian's Polly Toynbee nuzzles up to you, do not go weak at the knees.
As I have pointed out before, Polly lauded Gordon Brown when he became Prime Minister. Last September she dropped him, only to pick him again a few weeks later after he had staged a mini recovery. Now she has finally plunged the knife in again, and I suppose this time there is no coming back. Beware of Polly's kiss.
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