Pied Piper of Mischief leads the red tops on a merry dance

Chris Atkins tells Paul Bignell of his disciples' desire to continue planting fake stories

Film director Chris Atkins appears to have a death wish – having already taken on the collective might of tabloid newspapers, PR guru Max Clifford and Bob Geldof.

Atkins was the brains behind Starsuckers, a documentary which held the British tabloid press up to ridicule last year, in part by offering fake stories to the red-tops, many of which ended up in print. "The tabs hate me," he says. "After the news about my film broke, a friend warned me if I'm seen in pubs near Wapping, I'm likely to get my head kicked-in. They also sent some hacks to doorstep me. Pity they went to the wrong house."

As a filmmaker, he was nominated for a Bafta in 2008 for his debut, Taking Liberties, which attacked the Blair government for eroding our freedom. More recently, he faked an urban fox hunting video, duping most national newspapers and the BBC, which he says led to him receiving threats and a £2,000 reward being offered for his unmasking.

After Starsuckers was released, the Oxford graduate produced a website to accompany the film. One section offered a "how to" guide to anyone who wanted to earn a bit of cash by selling fake stories. It apparently inspired the appearance of a number of recent stories in the press which were, simply, confections. If, for example, you thought that Girls Aloud's Sarah Harding held a late-night séance, or that singer Pixie Lott broadened her mind by reading Descartes before going on stage, more fool you.

The stories, published in the Daily Star, but also replicated by other papers and websites, were the work of a handful of students, inspired by the Pied Piper of Mischief. "I kind of forgot all about the 'fake stories' because we were being sued by the News of the World and Bob Geldof was trying to shut us down," said Atkins from his home in east London. "They faded into the background because we were fighting all these other battles. Then, about five months later, I got the first email from one of the students, saying 'I've read your guide, I'm going to do this'."

One of those emails said "if you look in tomorrow's Daily Star you should see a nice wee story about Nicola Roberts [another Girls Aloud member] trying to pee in a urinal while drunk at a party. We got paid £150 for it so thank you very much for the idea." However, the Daily Star ran a retraction the day following publication after Roberts's PR team complained.

Atkins also received two more emails from members of the public saying they were going to do the same. "It was basically all young people who were just skint, had watched the movie and decided they could do that."

Another story made it into the Daily Star, about Lott's rider demands, which included colouring crayons, A3 paper and, more bizarrely, a globe and French philosopher René Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy.

Surely the tabloids should have picked up on the Chris Morris-esque absurdity of the story? "You have to be canny when deciding what to write," he says. "The tabloids are looking for an unusual twist. If you provide them with that twist, they're more likely to run the story and they're more likely to give you money.

"This brings the issue down to a basic paradox: the less true the story is, the more likely they are to run it and therefore the more money you're going to get, so the more likely you are to make things up."

But does he believe he can change the way the tabloids operate?

"The idea with this was if enough people phone up The Sun, for example, and say 'I saw Pixie Lott levitating across the Thames' and the journalists say 'hang on, is this one of these hoaxes?' then we've kind of done them a favour if they stop printing nonsense because of this."

But he says there is a bigger point: "We all know Gordon Smart will be the next editor of The Sun, because Dominic Mohan ran the Bizarre Column and now he's running The Sun. Andy Coulson and Piers Morgan similarly ran the Bizarre column – and look where they are. I wouldn't mind if they just carried on writing nonsense, but in two years' time, Smart will be deciding who to back to run the country.

"What happens is, in the two or three years working on the celebrity desk, their desire for the truth as a concept is surgically extracted from their brains. They stop caring what the truth is. Then they get to write about WMDs," says Atkins, with only the merest hints of irony.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
business
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Sport
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' is based on historical events
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Web / Digital Analyst - Google Analytics, Omniture

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Sales Perfomance Manager. Marylebone, London

£45-£57k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

Social Media Director (Global) - London Bridge/Southwark

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Social Media Director (Gl...

Personal and Legal Assistant – Media and Entertainment

£28,000 - £31,000: Sauce Recruitment: A Global media business based in West Lo...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil