Hacking trial: Will David Cameron and the Chipping Norton set ever be reunited after Rebekah Brooks' acquittal?

The halcyon days when Cameron would dine with the Brookses as Jeremy Clarkson played court jester seem very distant

Rebekah and Charlie Brooks may now be returning to the Oxfordshire village which once resounded to the lavish parties thrown by Britain’s power-brokers, following their acquittal on phone hacking related charges.

But the halcyon days when David Cameron would dine with the Brookses at their converted barn whilst Jeremy Clarkson played court jester at gatherings of an elite nexus from the worlds of showbusiness, politics and PR seem very distant.

For locals in the bucolic rural idyll, the all-night 2011 Summer party thrown by public relations guru Matthew Freud and his wife Elisabeth Murdoch, daughter of Rupert, at their nearby Burford Priory home, attended by Lord Mandelson, Michael Gove and David Miliband, marked the final hurrah of the “Chipping Norton set”.

The next day, the story that the News of the World had hacked Milly Dowler’s phone broke. From that moment on the PM, whose family seat is in the nearby village of Dean, couldn’t move fast enough to disassociate himself from Brooks, the News International chief and her husband, Charlie, a racehorse owner and Etonian pal of Cameron’s.

 

The ultimate social network, whose extended members include Blur bassist and cheese-farmer Alex James, a group suspected of carving up British public life at their decadent soirees, soon splintered. 

“We held the launch of Charlie’s novel, Citizen, and it was the perfect Cotswolds evening,” recalled Patrick Neale, co-owner of the Jaffe & Neale bookshop on Chipping Norton’s High Street.

“The Prime Minister and Jeremy Clarkson came, there were mock fairground rides and Tatler gave the party. I think people will be more cautious about throwing lavish parties now.”

The demise of the social scene, centred around the villages which circle the market town’s 17th century almshouses and pubs, is compared to the conclusion of The Great Gatsby, a requiem for another period of louche hedonism. “If you burn bright, you often disappear,” said Mr Neale. “Perhaps it’s better to smoulder.”

Bassist Alex James has completed his journey from regular at the Groucho to pillar of the Chipping Norton set Bassist Alex James has completed his journey from regular at the Groucho to pillar of the Chipping Norton set However Chipping Norton does not regret its years in the spotlight. “I think there is jealousy from people in London that this scene wasn’t happening in the Groucho Club,” said Mr Neale, who regularly serves Samantha Cameron and her children in the bookshop which doubles as a cafe. “There are some wealthy people here and it’s not too surprising that they throw parties. I personally have never been a fan of ostentatious behaviour though.”

For the drinkers in Chequers, an oak-floored medieval pub off the High Street, which was once a haunt of the Brookses, who live in the village of Churchill a couple of miles away, the Chipping Norton set was always one big party to which they were never invited.

“It’s as remote as China to us here,” said Nick, nursing a drink with friends. “Perhaps they all sat in a damp cellar plotting the future of the world? I think Coulson has been made a sacrificial lamb thrown out to help the Establishment survive.”

3. Chipping Norton. This Cotwold town is home to the famous 'Chipping Norton set', including Jeremy Clarkson, Rebekah Brooks and David Cameron 3. Chipping Norton. This Cotswold town is home to the famous 'Chipping Norton set', including Jeremy Clarkson, Rebekah Brooks and David Cameron The suburban Andy Coulson, they note, the one figure convicted, was only ever a visitor to the soirees and, unlike Cameron and Mr Brooks, was never to the Manor born.

The legacy of the “set” is a Friday afternoon influx of Notting Hill media types who flock to the market town as a substitute for real rural living. “It’s affordable housing we need here,” said Maureen, another Chequers customer.

At the Kingham Plough pub, where Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah used to dine, landlady Emily Watkins declines to discuss her famous clientele. “It’s ordinary people here for the most part. It’s beautiful countryside and Chipping Norton has become a foodie destination,” she said.

Will the “set” be reunited now the Brookses can return to village life with their two year-old daughter? Few have warm words towards Mrs Brooks, who is not a regular shopper at “Chippy”’s Sainsburys, where Mr Cameron is frequently spotted.

Phone hacking doesn’t feature in local gossip – but turf watchers in Chequers are still fascinated by the feud between Mr Brooks and former champion jockey John Francome after Charlie ran off with his wife.

 

Video: Brooks cleared of phone-hacking charges
Local gossip has it that the Brookses and Clarkson enjoy a private room at the other Chequers pub in Churchill, where the Top Gear host is allowed to smoke indoors.

 

If a public rapprochement is to take place, the Cornbury Music Festival, in a fortnight, could be the venue. Cameron regularly attends the event, in his Whitney constituency but was careful not to bump into Mrs Brooks last year. Observers say he spoke to Coulson though in the VIP area. Circumstances may dictate that it is Mrs Brooks who receives Cameron’s counsel next month.

Read More: Rebekah Brooks Speaks For First Time Since Verdict
Morgan, Mensch, Declare Support For Coulson, Brooks
Judge Criticises Cameron For Apology After Coulson Verdict
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
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 People

Recruitment Genius: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece