Hubris had been his metaphorical middle name for decades, a strain of madness was apparent from the way he virtually invited prosecution, and nemesis duly delivered her payload at Southwark Crown Court on Monday. Yet however familiar from Greek drama that progression may be, it would require a public relations operator of warped genius to portray Max Clifford as a tragic hero. And the only one with the malign chutzpah to attempt such a task is the one now awaiting sentence for eight counts of indecent assault.
I could have a feeble crack myself, by pretentiously pointing out that the distinctive hallmark of the tragic hero is the inability to see in himself the flaws that are blindingly obvious to everybody else. It took lack of self-awareness on a cosmic scale for this self-proclaimed profiteer from outlandish falsehoods to accuse his accusers of being“fantasists and opportunists” who told “a pack of lies” and “fairy stories” in the hope of selling their alleged confections to the tabloids without noticing an irony. Could you imagine a more perfect example of projection than this?
Yet all anyone charged with writing about Clifford could honestly wish to do is find that a waterproof lap top cover has magically materialised on the doormat. This is one of those columns that should be written in the shower, followed by the kind of skin-breaking scouring Karen Silkwood had to endure after being contaminated by a radioactive leak.
The detail that coats you in an especially thick film of voyeuristic filth is the one that led to this overdue corrective to the foolish misapprehension that, because of various acquittals, the justice system had no business chasing down ancient sex crimes. In the wake of the Jimmy Savile revelations, Clifford went on television and cockily predicted that that there was much more to come. It came for him when police raided his Surrey home, and found a letter in which a woman reminded him graphically of the abuse he visited on her 35 years ago, when she was 15 and he promised to make her a star if she pleasured him.
“I had no one to turn to,” she wrote. “You were very clever. A+ in grooming children.” He bullied her into fellating the penis that incited such contradictory evidence about its size. He had persuaded her, falsely, that he had commissioned a photographer to record the incident with a long lens. “I thought my life had ended,” she said. “I was going to jump off a bridge.”
However repugnant the facts, more shocking was this. Detectives came upon that letter in the drawer of Clifford’s bedside table. My rationale for that geographical fact is brought to us in association with a family-size box of Kleenex. What are we to make of a man to whom an anguished reminder of how he wrecked a human life is not itself a source of anguish, but a masturbatory aid?
All I can make of it is that some people, usually male, are born missing that part of the brain’s structure of psychochemistry which confers the gift of empathy. Nothing known of Clifford’s early life suggests any environmental reason for him finding the torment he inflicted sexually arousing rather than desperately shaming. If that perversion is a random genetic accident, perhaps one should try to see it is a curse and such people as victims. There are limits to the cardiac blood flow of even the most bleeding heart liberal, however, and Clifford seems to delineate those. While the sight in which he hid was not as plain as Savile, and his crimes were neither as many nor heinous, it feels venal even to hint at a ranking formula for the psychological destruction of the vulnerable young.
Clifford, who after destroying David Mellor with the Chelsea football shirt invention piously announced he would expose the sexual hypocrisy of other Tory ministers in revenge for their maltreatment of the NHS, and whose web site continues to advertise his patronage of children’s charities, was as rancid a hypocrite as even the PR-red top interface could produce.
He bragged about earning a fortune from suppressing stories, but failed to perform that protective role for himself. Having enriched and aggrandised himself by exposing the private lives of other, he was belatedly brought down by the exposure of his privates. Poetic justice comes no more unpoetic. But it is justice that efforts to punish ancient sex crimes were vindicated. And it is justice that Clifford has been deposited, by the giant tongs of public disgust, into the dustbin of history, to rot alongside Savile as an emblem of that grotesque era when rapacious predators destroyed young lives with what for so scandalously long seemed impunity.
Where are the high street coffee shops, asked no one
In a further encouraging ecomomic sign, the parent company of Costa Coffee, Premier Inn and other popular British brands has announced a rise in profits of 16.5 percent, and Whitbread’s chief executive Andy Harrison took to the airwaves yesterday in understandably buoyant mood. Most of the profit surge, Mr Harrison told Radio 4’s Today programme, may be ascribed to the opening of 160 new Costas, and this is marvellous news. The paucity of high street coffee shops was becoming a serious concern (in some town centres, it was believed that you can walk for seven yards without encountering one), and no economic indicator offers genuine hope for an indefinitely sustainable recovery to terrify the Chinese like the enduring knack for selling ever more capuccinos and lattes to one another. Those nations that concentrate on making stuff other countries want to buy must have felt pretty daft if they heard the interview.
More impressive still was Mr Harrison’s gratitude to those who, by “providing a great customer experience”, have done such wonders for his profits. “I’d just like to say a thank you to the 43,000 team members,” he said, “who have done such a great job for us over the last year.” Why he rejected this chance to offer a verbal pat on the back to Whitbread’s employees was unclear. Perhaps they haven’t performed as well as his team members, and he meant to motivate them by fostering a little creative tension.