For someone who has relied throughout his 50-year career on his extensive contacts book, Max Clifford cut a lonely figure during his six-week trial. Whereas celebrities Bill Roache, Michael Le Vell and Dave Lee Travis had family and friends by their side throughout their sex offence trials, the publicist shuffled into Southwark Crown Court day in, day out, all alone.
The man the stars relied upon to cover up their sexual indiscretions appeared to have had no one to accompany him as he publicly confronted his own. His second wife, Jo Westwood, was with him when he appeared at Westminster magistrates’ court last year but did not attend his trial.
Clifford liked to be surrounded by pretty women from an early age and candidly describes his attitude towards sex and relationships in his 2005 autobiography Read All About It. After losing his virginity during a lunch break, Clifford spent the following summer at a friend’s house which quickly became “a den of iniquity”.
“Sex became another sport for me,” he wrote. “I love women’s bodies and the fact every one is so different and I have always wanted to please them sexually. I was sexually adventurous from a young age… almost anything went. When I look back now at all the risks I took, I realise I could have had all kinds of sexually transmitted diseases but luckily I never have.”
A risk-taker prepared for danger is how the prosecution successfully branded Clifford during his trial. He was described as a master in the art of manipulation and intimidation who used the same pattern of behaviour time and again: bragging about his contacts to naive girls and young women who thought the man in front of them held their careers in his hands. He forced some of his victims to masturbate him in his office, telling them he would put in a good word with a producer or casting agent friend.
Despite marrying young – he was 24, his first wife Liz was 22 – Clifford’s casual attitude towards sex and women never changed. He had cheated on her with “one or two other girls” while they were dating and marriage did not change him. “Although I did occasionally play away, I would never have left [Liz],” he said.
The publicist was just 27 when he set up Max Clifford Associates and his office at 109 New Bond Street quickly became his “sexual fiefdom”.
The jury heard of several occasions when Clifford put on what he called his “gay voice” or impersonated Hollywood stars, when calling models or wannabe actresses, telling women to turn up at Clifford’s office without wearing any knickers.
His victims, all teenagers, would be encouraged by the “Hollywood identity” to find out Mr Clifford’s “Achilles’ heel”. And when they arrived, he would unbutton his trousers and complain about his “tiny penis”.
As Clifford’s power base grew, so too did his audacity. Having organised pornography viewings for about 100 men in his twenties to subsidise his pay as a local journalist, Clifford branched out into sex parties for the rich and famous during the 1970s and 80s. He described them as “good, honest filth”.
“The parties became my circus and various people performed in different ways,” he wrote in his book. Clifford described “randy” women who were desperate to meet TV and film producers and badgered him to get an invite. “Fortunately I knew one or two agents who would issue false contracts in return for sexual favours,” he said. When asked about the sex parties during his trial, Clifford said “everyone was old enough to know what they were doing”.
Naturally, he did not go home to his wife and discuss his day. He wrote: “I could enjoy the parties and then go home and enjoy being domestic. I’ve always been able to separate the various parts of my life.” One ex-mistress among those who became known as “Max’s Angels”, who was 19 when they had an affair, told his trial that Clifford was a “very kind, very caring man” who said he would never leave his wife. She claimed they had never had sex in his office, but Clifford admitted in court that he did have sex there with another employee, during another affair.
One “gorgeous dark-haired model”, Ria, eventually fell pregnant while they were together but Clifford does not clarify in his book whether or not the child is his. He admits to never using contraception which was “stupid and risky”. He said: “We talked about whether or not she should have the child and I told her it had to be her decision.” The couple soon broke up when Ria met someone else.
Clifford used to bet with friends he could walk on to New Bond Street and convince women to come up to his office to have revealing pictures taken. In his autobiography, he proudly describes convincing a “solidly built traffic warden in her 30s” to let him take topless photos of her after she said her ambition was to be on TV. Clifford got her a walk-on part on a Freddie Starr show.
The publicist accepted the reason so many people are keen to find out about the sex lives of the rich and famous is partly down to him. Having used his contacts with madams and prostitutes to satisfy every kind of sexual permutation desired by his clients while also keeping them discreet, by the 1990s he emerged as the go-to man for women dealing with a rampant tabloid press.
Clifford claimed during his trial that his victims were “fantasists and opportunists” who were describing “fairy stories” in a bid to get compensation, but the risk-taking had finally caught up with him.
“I’ve always said my downfall won’t be due to something I’m involved with but something I know nothing about,” he wrote in his autobiography. Yet the man with a jangling set of keys that could unlock thousands of secrets brought about his downfall all on his own.