Behind Rupert's throne: The story of Rebekah Brooks

Despite the hacking scandal engulfing News international, the woman at its centre remains Rupert Murdoch's favoured lieutenant. But how long can Rebekah Brooks survive as the Queen of Wapping? Andy McSmith gets the story.

Rupert Murdoch has four daughters, but sometimes it seems like there are five. The one who looms largest in his life is not a Murdoch by birth, but a tough social climber from Cheshire who is easily recognisable by her long flame-red hair and is now grappling with the biggest crisis of her career.

Rebekah Brooks has stayed close to the media mogul, once described as the Sun King by the journalist Andrew Neil, for a very long time without getting burned. Other products of the Murdoch stable have their day and are then discarded.

But not even the shocking revelation now sending tremors through News International have driven a wedge between the proprietor and his favourite executive. At least, not yet.

Given the closeness of their working relationship, we can take it for granted that Murdoch approved the message Brooks sent to News International staff yesterday, pleading: "I hope that you all realise it is inconceivable that I knew or, worse, sanctioned these appalling allegations."

Its emotive tone, with its seasoning of words like "appalling" and "sickened", bodes very ill indeed for any News International employee whose fingerprints are found at the scene of that phone-hacking episode when Milly Dowler went missing eight years ago. But the email also had another clear message. Other people pay with their jobs when something like this happens – but not Brooks, even though the perpetrators of this "sickening" act were working for her, albeit indirectly. She is safe, for now, because it would hurt Murdoch so badly to lose her.

But it would hurt Brooks even more to lose her job. Others, like the journalists Andrew Neil or Piers Morgan, can fall out with Murdoch and bounce up somewhere else. But for Brooks, there is no visible life after Murdoch. She might it very hard to readjust if she were torn away from the organisation which has nurtured her through much of her adult life. She and Murdoch talk every day. She is not required to answer to anybody whose name is not Murdoch. When the old man enters a crowded room, Brooks is immediately at his side as his introducer and protector.

She is on a par with Matthew Freud, who is married to Murdoch's daughter Elisabeth, as one of the greatest networkers alive. Her façade is steely, but she is also known to make small acts of genuine kindness for which those on the receiving end stay grateful.

She has become accustomed to the high life from being in Murdoch's orbit. She was in the royal box at Wimbledon last Friday, watching the semi-final between Novak Djokovic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. During the Glastonbury Festival, she descended, like the footballer Wayne Rooney and his wife, Coleen, in her personal helicopter and was drinking champagne from a glass while others had to make do with plastic cups.

Other women have thoughtful employers and indulgent fathers, but who else but Murdoch would give his favourite daughter manquée a painting by LS Lowry for a 40th-birthday present? The actor Hugh Grant's secretly recorded conversation with a former News of the World reporter elicited another titbit about her whirlwind life: She goes horse riding with David Cameron.

Though she lives in material opulence, Brooks was not born into this. After a state-school education, she studied at the Sorbonne, in Paris, then, at the age of 20, she turned up at the Warrington offices of a newly launched newspaper called The Post, to work as a newsdesk secretary. The paper folded in a matter of weeks and she talked her way into a similar job in Wapping.

More than 10 years later, at the age of 32 in 2000, she emerged into the public eye as Britain's youngest national newspaper editor and the scourge of paedophiles. In the wake of the murder of eight-year-old Sarah Payne, she threw the resources of the News of the World behind a campaign for "Sarah's Law", which would give people to right to know if a paedophile is living in their vicinity.

The paper "named and shamed" several paedophiles, despite warnings that this could incite vigilante action. "I want to encourage the public to be vigilant, not vigilante," she said in defence of the campaign.

Obviously, she would wish people to believe that she and her newspaper were motivated by a wish to allay parents' anxieties about their children's safety rather than to create a sensation that would drive up sales, an idea that has taken a severe knock now that it has been revealed how little the News of the World cared about the feelings of the Dowler family when 13-year-old Milly went missing.

But at the time, the campaign was popular with the newspaper's readers and did her career no harm. In 2003, she moved up to become the first female editor of The Sun, to be succeeded in her old job by her loyal acolyte, Andy Coulson, who later achieved fame as Cameron's chief spin doctor.

Though Brooks excelled in personal relations on a one-to-on level, she learned early on that making public appearances, which required her to think quickly on her feet, was not her strong suit. Giving evidence to the Commons Select Committee on Culture in March 2003, she casually admitted: "We have paid the police for information in the past."

Those words returned to haunt her years later, as the suspicion spread that Scotland Yard had shown a distinct lack of enthusiasm for investigating the phone-hacking scandal because too many of its officers had taken the News International shilling.

She weathered one notable embarrassment during her time at The Sun, when she was arrested in November 2005 for apparently assaulting her then husband, the on-screen tough guy Ross Kemp, whom she had married in 2002.

She had been out the night before having dinner with the Labour politician David Blunkett, commiserating with him over a story in The Independent on Sunday which had forced him to resign from the cabinet for the second and final time. When she returned home, to Battersea, something went seriously wrong – but we have only unreliable rumours about what exactly it was. Police arrived around 4am, after two 999 calls, to find a sorry-looking Kemp. They arrested Brooks and held her for eight hours. No charges resulted.

The fracas coincided with one of Murdoch's visits to London. He was to be seen in Wapping that morning, demanding to know why his favourite editor was not at her desk. Coulson went to her rescue and when she finally arrived in Wapping, Murdoch treated the whole incident as a joke. The following day's edition of The Sun ran a headline saying "EastEnders hardman beaten by lover" – but that referred to the actor who played the brother of Kemp's on-screen character, who had come off worse in an argument with his ex-girlfriend. Though Kemp was sporting a thick lip, his wife denied inflicting it upon him. She said he had suffered an accident while filming and that the whole episode had been nothing more than a "silly row".

Still, it came as no great surprise when she obtained a "quickie" divorce in 2009 on the grounds of his infidelity, which he admitted. By then, she had been introduced to Charlie Brooks, an old Etonian former amateur jockey and trainer and former proprietor of a sex-toy mail-order company. It has been said that they complemented each other perfectly because he has the confidence to make gentle fun of her, saving her from the corporate disease of taking herself too seriously, and because each knows half of the people in the world that anyone ambitious needs to know – so between them they cover the field. Cameron, Gordon Brown, and most of the Murdoch clan were among the rich and famous guests at the couple's wedding two years ago.

They were written up in an immortal article in Vanity Fair shortly before the marriage, which is such a classic of the genre that it is hard to avoid a suspicion that it is a parody. It opened with the words: "When Charlie Brooks wakes up in the mornings in his barn in Oxfordshire, he likes nothing better than to fly to Venice from Oxford airport with his soon-to-be wife Rebekah Wade, the dazzling redhead editor of The Sun, for lunch at Harry's Bar. Later in the day, after shopping and sightseeing, the couple fly back to London for dinner at Wiltons in Jermyn Street."

The article went on to name other members of the "Oxfordshire set" who can reputedly be seen popping in and out of the Brooks' home in Chipping Norton, including Jeremy Clarkson, in whose house the couple first met, Emily Oppenheimer Turner, who sometimes lends them the family home in St Tropez, the Carphone Warehouse boss Charles Dunstone, the Blur bassist Alex James and many more.

In September 2009, after six years of editing The Sun, Brooks stepped up to the post of Chief Executive of News International, at the same time that James Murdoch took over as chairman. This puts her on par with Sly Bailey, of Trinity Mirror, as the most powerful woman in the British media.

As she settled into her new job, the phone-hacking scandal started to bubble up. News International had thought it dealt with it in 2007, when the News of the World royal correspondent Clive Goodman and the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire went to jail, Coulson resigned the editorship and the company convinced the Press Complaints Commission that it had all been an aberration involving one rogue reporter. As that story started to look threadbare, Coulson was compelled to fall on his sword for a second time, leaving Downing Street in January this year.

In March, James Murdoch was called to New York to work alongside his father, in what looked like a News International equivalent of taking the last helicopter out of Saigon. Brooks was left behind in the besieged Wapping Fortress to deal with the biggest scandal to hit the Murdoch media empire.

Despite the calls for her to reconsider her position – from the Dowlers' lawyer, the Labour leader Ed Miliband, politicians and the public – the toughie from Cheshire means to hang on in there for as long as Murdoch wants her to. And he is showing no inclination to cut her loose.

Right-hand women and their bosses By Alice-Azania Jarvis

Barack Obama & Valerie Jarrett

When Valerie Jarrett, then-deputy chief of staff to the Chicago mayor, interviewed Michelle Robinson for a job, she tried to hire her immediately. But Robinson asked for time to think and invited Jarrett to meet her fiancé, one Barack Obama. The three became friends, Robinson (later Obama) took the job, and Jarrett introduced the couple to the well-connected circle that became instrumental in aiding Obama’s political ambitions. Now Jarrett is assistant to the President for Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs and a key part of his inner circle.

Mark Zuckerberg & Sheryl Sandberg

When Sheryl Sandberg left her job as vice-president for global online sales at Google, Facebook had barely any revenue. Three years on, it is both profitable and highly valuable – and much of the credit lies with Sandberg. Dealing with “everything [Mark Zuckerberg] doesn’t want to”, the chief operating officer’s remit ranges from ad strategy to recruitment.

Tony Blair & Anji Hunter

Once described as “the most influential non-elected person in Downing Street”, Hunter worked for Blair for nine years before he became Prime Minister. When Labour won the 1997 election, she became director of government relations, Blair’s so-called “gatekeeper”, a role she held until 2001, when a post as director of communications at BP lured her away.

Michel Roux Jr & Monica Galetti

When Michel Roux Jr really wants to scare the contestants on MasterChef: The Professionals, he wheels out Monica Galetti, sous-chef at Le Gavroche. His protégée for more than a decade, she was born in Samoa and trained in New Zealand and has impeccable credentials.

Oprah Winfrey & Gayle King

The pair met on a local TV station in the 1980s. In 1999, King joined Winfrey’s magazine, O, as an editor. Now editor-at-large of the publication, she has hosted her own show, The Gayle King Show, on Winfrey’s new OWN network. Close friends, the pair are said to be virtually inseparable.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
Life and Style
Duchess of Cambridge standswith officials outside of the former wartime spy centre in Bletchley Park
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

Ashdown Group: Analyst Programmer (Filemaker Pro/ SQL) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days, pension, private medical : Ashdown Group: A highly...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'