Uncovered: a master work of PR?

When I was on a fleeting visit to London last week, who should I bump into but my old friend Adrian Wardour-Street, the uncrowned king of PR. (Max Clifford? Ah - he is the self-crowned king of PR.) He was walking down the street, tapping away at a mobile phone.

"Adrian!" I cried.

"Hold on," he muttered. "I'm just texting someone very important."

"Who's that?"

"Myself, of course."

"Texting yourself?", I exclaimed. "Why do you want to do that?"

"Reminding myself to do various things," he said.

"Why don't you just write a list?" I said.

He eyed me pityingly.

"But that's exactly what I am doing!" he said. "And look - the last item says: 'Remember 2 give old friend who has just stopped you in the street a coffee'. Come on, then."

And he steered me into an adjacent non-Starbucks.

"So, how is the wonderful world of spin and story?" I said.

"Doing a bit of PR in the art world," said Adrian.

"Does the art world need any PR?"

"The art world always needs PR," he said. "They crave it. They can't do without it. Poor dear painters always feel overshadowed by the past, you see."

"So do all other artists," I said. "A modern actor feels the weight of history on him."

"Ah, but the public can't buy tickets for great actors of the past, can they? All dead, aren't they? So modern actors have the field to themselves. Whereas modern painters know they are competing with all great painters of the past, because their paintings have lived on.

"But the dreadful thing about art," continued Adrian, "all art, past and present, is that it doesn't do anything. It just hangs there. Nobody would notice it if it wasn't repackaged the whole time. People reassemble it and call it "The Golden Age of Portraits", or "Titian", and then the public flocks to see it. You have to keep doing stunts the whole time."

"What kind of stunts?"

"Well, let's say you had a memorial in Hyde Park to Diana, Princess of Wales. Let's say nobody was paying it much attention. Let's say people wanted it to hit the headlines. So, let's say someone fell over and hurt themselves ..."

"Adrian!" I said so loudly that someone at the next table stared at their mobile in amazement. "You don't mean to say that you fixed that story."

"Or let's say," he said, smiling slightly to himself, "that the art world wanted some free publicity. How would you go about that?"

"I don't know," I said. "Get Tracey Emin to admit she wasn't very good?"

"I'm not sure anyone would believe her," said Adrian. "They'd only think she was up to something. But you're on the right track. Can you think of anything that has put her in the news recently?"

"Only that fire in the art warehouse," I said.

"Yes, that fire in the art warehouse ..." said Adrian.

Something in his tone made me look at him sharply.

"Adrian! You don't mean ...!"

"Relax," said Adrian. "There was nothing in that warehouse. It had all been removed the day before. It's safely stored away. But one fire isn't really enough. What you need is a series of publicity stunts, to keep reminding people how wonderful and essential art is. And major art thefts are always the best."

I cast my mind back.

"There haven't been any major art thefts recently, have there?" I said.

"Not yet," said Adrian. "Not yet. Just keep your eyes open at the weekend. Read the news from Norway. Say no more. Mum's the word."

And when I opened yesterday's paper and read that Edvard Munch's The Scream was gone again, I wondered fleetingly, not for the first time, if the day would ever come when I would be tempted to turn my friend Adrian in to the police.