The editor who never was

Before he returned to radio, Nick Ferrari was set to edit Richard Desmond's proposed new London paper. He warns James Silver not to write off the proprietor's project just yet

Some men are born scruffy, however much care they take with their appearance. The motormouth radio presenter and former tabloid newspaper executive Nick Ferrari is certainly one of them. He emerges from his studio looking as though he's been dragged through a hedge backwards. Three hours of live radio have clearly taken their toll.

Some men are born scruffy, however much care they take with their appearance. The motormouth radio presenter and former tabloid newspaper executive Nick Ferrari is certainly one of them. He emerges from his studio looking as though he's been dragged through a hedge backwards. Three hours of live radio have clearly taken their toll.

Seven months ago, Ferrari was set to become the editor of Express-owner Richard Desmond's much talked-about but yet-to-be-launched London evening paper. He first became involved after doing "some consultancy work" for Desmond and being hired as a columnist. But when he suggested hiring someone to march outside the London Evening Standard's Kensington offices wearing a sandwich-board with the slogan "The End is Nigh", the Express proprietor "pissed himself laughing" and promptly signed him up as editor.

Settling into a black leather chair, Ferrari concedes that, given the protracted delays, it's possible that the newspaper will now never be published. That's despite Desmond's own recent vow to go ahead with the project as soon as the Office of Fair Trading rules on whether it can be distributed on London's transport system.

"It was definitely 'a go'," recalls Ferrari. "I'd been involved in four different dummies. They took on a number of staff. There was a real, real sense that it was going to launch. I wouldn't write it off fully now, although I do think it's rather less likely than it was."

He does, however, admit that the paper was under-resourced. "Never mind The Sun, it didn't really have the resources of the Sevenoaks Chronicle. But it would still have been a good product, it would still have done the job."

Ferrari bailed out when he was forced to choose between the Desmond paper and the chance to present the breakfast show on London station LBC. Ferrari, who was hosting the station's mid-morning phone-in at the time, says: "It was transparently obvious I couldn't do both the radio show and the newspaper. Certain people had hinted at the fact that it was ludicrous that I would be on the wireless for three hours every morning while supposedly editing an evening paper.

"But although I would have been the editor and would have gone into the office every day, I was really hired as much to be the figurehead and to put my - in that horrible expression - imprimatur on it, as anything else. Richard Desmond, who is a bloke I admire, decided that I was one of London's opinion-makers and he wanted my name as part of the paper. But it became absolutely obvious to all concerned that I really couldn't do both."

Sources say Chrysalis (which owns LBC) gave him an ultimatum that boiled down to a flat choice between the breakfast show and the evening paper. "If I was going to make a success of the breakfast show I had to give the commitment to the folks at Chrysalis that I wasn't going to stay involved with the newspaper," says Ferrari, choosing his words carefully.

Ever the canny freelance, Ferrari refuses to burn his bridges with Desmond. He dismisses the press baron's erratic behaviour during a meeting with Daily Telegraph executives - in which he reportedly goose-stepped around the room and called all Germans "Nazis" - as frivolity. "Sometimes he does get over-excited. Would he do the goose-stepping if he had his time again? I'd guess probably not. But remember, we are talking about a bloke who saved a national newspaper. Hundreds of journalists, admin and advertising staff can pay their mortgages, put food on the table and shoes on their children's feet thanks to him."

If the Desmond paper ever does see the light of day, the eccentric proprietor's initial choice of editor must give a strong hint as to what editorial content Londoners can expect. Ferrari was censured by the Broadcasting Standards Commission for encouraging racism against asylum-seekers in a programme that aired in March last year. Does he think Britain is flooded with asylum seekers?

"Whether we are flooded, I don't know. But is there an issue that in parts of London and Kent... you can go to areas where people have been on housing lists for months, if not years, who have been knocked to the back of the queue [by asylum-seekers], and people who have paid into the NHS for many years don't get treatment because someone has just arrived off the back of a tomato truck. Then, yes, I think that's true."

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