The McCartneys at war: Diary of a deadly divorce

Ex-Beatle Paul is as widely loved as ex-model Heather is maligned. What can she do to turn the tide in her favour, ask Ruth Elkins and Lauren Veevers
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The Independent Online

The past seven days could turn out to cost Heather Mills-McCartney an awful lot of money. Even for a woman as widely maligned as Lady Mills-McCartney, she and her circle have not exactly helped her cause in the past week.

A five-day blizzard of stories about the deteriorating relations between her and Paul McCartney were almost certainly inspired, says Max Clifford, the doyen of media relations, by a ham-fisted Heather camp. What appeared to be a war of words and spiteful actions between her and the ex-Beatle is in fact a series of PR stunts that seem to have badly backfired.

The intent was to portray her as a victim. As the week went on, the coverage began to resemble a pastiche of the kinds of stories that Princess Diana engineered when she was in the throes of her divorce with Prince Charles: the poor, waif-like former wife alone on a doorstep, leaks about the slights and insults she is suffering. But Lady Mills-McCartney is no Diana. And neither, according to Mr Clifford, are those advising her in the same class as those who maintained Diana's image as the injured party.

How all this will affect the McCartney divorce and the split of his £820m fortune will be decided in the future by a judge, but if these matters were decided in the court of public opinion, she would walk from it a very disappointed woman. This is the diary of a week when the McCartney split went from bad to worse for Heather.

Sunday

It seemed Heather was about to have a pretty good ride. She had, reported the Sunday Express, rediscovered her famous feistiness. Accusing Paul of being too old, she joked that she would never "date pensioners again". Meanwhile, Sir Paul's usually angelic behaviour was looking decidedly ropey. In an article that would set the tone for events in the days to come, it revealed the McCartney divorce had officially turned nasty. The paper alleged Paul had frozen their joint account, claiming Heather had spent "obscene" amounts of cash, leaving her humiliated when she tried to take out money.

He had refused to let her land a helicopter on his East Sussex estate and had stopped fighting his local council in its attempts to knock down Heather's new home. He sent his wife a furious legal warning after her nanny took three bottles of cleaning fluid from his house. Then came the biggest rub of all: Paul had changed the locks at the couple's London home.

Monday

Or had he? Heather didn't seem sure. On Monday evening the 38-year-old turned up at the St John's Wood mansion, photographers allegedly in tow. Then, as the cameras clicked away, she expressed herself "mortified" that her keys didn't work. The McCartney camp claimed the bizarre lock-out incident had been a set-up to make Paul look bad. Most others agreed. "Of course those pictures [of Mills locked out of her home] were set up," Max Clifford told The Independent on Sunday. "Do you think there just happens to be a photographer walking past when it happened? Only one person knew what time Heather Mills would be turning up at the house and that was Heather Mills. The whole thing to me is a big PR campaign."

Tuesday

It was certainly beginning to look that way. By the time Lady Mills-McCartney emerged from the Georgian-fronted house the following morning (having eventually been allowed in), she gave the waiting paparazzi a good look at the files under her arm. The name on them was of London solicitors, Mishcon de Reya. By evening, it was confirmed that the senior partner there, Anthony Julius, whose only other divorce case was Princess Diana's, was to represent Ms Mills.

Heather, came the claim, had always fancied herself as a Princess Di figure. "It was only a matter of time, said 'friends', that she would hire Princess Diana's lawyer, after hearing that Paul had plumped for Fiona "Steel Magnolia" Shackleton, the lawyer who helped Prince Charles strip Diana of her title when they divorced.

Wednesday

"The late Princess often tipped off the media in advance of her visits during her divorce," noted one observer. Whether Heather told photographers she would be visiting her lawyers is unclear. But she was certainly snapped doing it, looking sad and worn in the process. It should have been a PR coup: a battle royal between poor, wronged Diana (Heather) against nasty villainous Charles (Paul). But it was not to be. Heather's attempt to win over the tabloids simply prompted them to hit back. Her former sister-in-law duly spoke to the Daily Mirror. Heather was presented as a control freak driven by the trappings of fame and wealth; a manipulative, scheming faker who loved wearing fur and eating meat. "She is like a chameleon," said Dianna Karmal. "She draws in men, making them believe she is their perfect woman. Then she gets more demanding, bored and moves on."

Thursday

But who had decided to turn "Lady Mucca" into a Queen of Hearts? Was it Heather's doing? Perhaps not. Perhaps the Diana connection had been formed in the mind of Phil Hall, the former News of the World editor who is Lady Mills-McCartney's PR adviser. Perhaps it was the work of Mark Payne, her "new companion". It was Mr Payne and Heather's stepfather, Charles Stapley, who emerged last week as true friends.

Mr Stapley, speaking from his south London flat, said that he partly blamed himself for his stepdaughter's behaviour, that she was a "confused young woman" with a troubled childhood. She had always felt disadvantaged. Heather, he said, deserved the £200m settlement she is reportedly seeking. "It's just a percentage of his wealth," he said. "If he was worth £80,000 and she got £20,000 nobody would be saying the things they have been saying."

Friday

Heather, say "friends", isn't so much a gold digger as a fame digger. She is a woman desperate to be loved. It is a judge who will ultimately decide who wins the battles in the McCartney divorce. Whatever settlement Heather receives she will be set up for life. But her popularity and reputation? Mr Clifford said: "Virtually everybody likes him and virtually everybody doesn't like her."

So what should Heather do? Agree a reasonable settlement sum and get out quick, advises Mr Clifford. Be extremely complimentary about Paul. Then keep her head down.

The mystery of the frozen bank account

THE CLAIM: Paul froze couple's joint bank account after reportedly finding Heather had withdrawn £1m in a month

WHERE MADE: Sunday Mirror, Sunday 6 August

THE VERDICT: Could be Paul's genuine attempt to cut the ties with Heather, perhaps on the advice of his legal team

The strange affair of the cleaning fluid

THE CLAIM: Paul's lawyers warned Heather after her nanny took three bottles of cleaning fluid from his home in East Sussex

WHERE MADE: Sunday Mirror, Sunday 6 August

THE VERDICT: Heather's camp leaked the story

The great St John's Wood door key scandal

THE CLAIM: Heather was left trying to enter the couple's London house only to find that someone had changed the locks

WHERE MADE: Evening Standard, Tuesday 8 August

THE VERDICT: Some observers believed she intended to be photographed in a humiliating situation so as to be portrayed as a wronged women

Expert View: 'She should take a sensible amount and get out quick'

PR guru Max Clifford gives the warring couple his advice on how to minimise the fallout from their increasingly public dispute

My take on this whole situation is very simple. Obviously when they split up he wanted everything to be settled quickly, quietly and as amicably as possible. Since then, whatever was between them has been totally destroyed.

For whatever reason Heather got increasingly upset. She has employed Phil Hall, who started off in PR with me after he was sacked from the 'News of the World'. Her supporters are trying to feed things to the media which damage Paul.

She comes across in a very hard way. The public don't warm to her, they think she is a gold digger. In fact, the more time people spend with her the less they seem to warm to her.

There are two battles going on here: the legal battle and the PR battle. They will fight it out in court but they are also trying to improve their positions using the media to get the public's sympathy. She has got nothing to lose because she had no sympathy to start off with. My advice would be simple. I say to Heather Mills: take a sensible amount and get out as soon as possible. Talk about him in complimentary terms, show people you can be kind and warm and considerate. It will be put out that you could have got £50m but you took £20m. You could still change the public's perception of you. The British public like people to be warm, friendly, considerate and kind. If she can learn to act like that then she has some chance. Unfortunately, she has not done a very good job of that so far.

She would do well if she were to say, this is all getting silly, all of this has been caused by other people, Paul and I have sat down together and we don't want this to carry on so we have sorted out a simple statement. The only way this could work is if they both had the same PR person. The problem with most PRs is that they do what they're told, and instead they need to tell their client what to do. I'm not looking for their business - I'm not interested in either of them. For their own sake, they need a PR who will tell them what to do.

It doesn't matter much to Paul. This is just a blip in 40 years. But for her it's the main event. People will judge her according to what she is doing now, and all she is doing is making it worse for herself.