You can run but you can't hide without the doyen's help

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The Independent Online
I BUMPED into my old friend Adrian Wardour-Street the other day. He was steering his way through Soho, trying out a new pair of fashionable sun-glasses. It might be nearer the truth to say that he bumped into me.

'Adrian]' I cried, as I rubbed my foot and he whipped off his shades to find out who he had stepped on. 'The doyen of the British public relations world, as I live and breathe]'

'I have often meant to look up 'doyen' in the dictionary,' he said, taking me by the elbow and steering me to the nearest bar. 'People are always using it about me. I am sure they mean it kindly.'

'I have never seen the word used about you in print,' I said.

'I should think not,' he said, shocked. 'I should hope you have never seen my name in print. You can't be the doyen of the British PR world if people know your name. It's got to be done behind the scenes. Softly, softly, catchee monkee. Have a Petite Fleur?'

'What's that?' I asked.

'Yes, what's that?' asked the barman.

'One-third light rum, one-third Cointreau, one-third fresh grapefruit juice,' said Adrian.

'Coming up,' said the barman.

It was typical of Adrian that long after everyone else had tired of the cocktail revival, he was still keen. It made him seem, somehow, ahead of the game, as if he knew cocktails would come back.

'So how's the PR game?' I asked. 'Whose image are you trying to brighten up these days?'

'There's more to this game than image-brightening. Image- hiding comes into it, too.'

'How do you mean?'

'Any fool can get a story into the papers. It's keeping them out that sorts the men from the boys.'

'I'm not sure I . . .'

'Look, if you were in the headlines day after day, always attracting unfavourable comment and speculation, what would you do?'

'I'd resign.'

'Grow up. Nobody resigns these days except politicians who want to look as if they are doing the honourable thing.'

'Well, I'd . . . I'd . . .'

'You'd come to the doyen of the PR business, that's me, remember, and say, 'Adrian, darling, keep us out of the headlines for a while, there's a dear . . . ' .'

'Would I?'

'Try and think of people who until recently were on every front page, having a really hard time, and who now are off them . . .'

'Hmm . . . John Birt?'

'Very good] Go on . . .'

'Marmaduke Hussey? Tiny Rowland?'

'Excellent]'

'Oh, and the Royal Family]'

'Yes, strange, isn't it? Until a few weeks ago you'd have thought they'd never leave the Royals alone. And now suddenly they seem to have got bored with them. One asks oneself why.'

'Do you mean to tell me that someone like John Birt comes to you and says, 'Adrian, darling, keep us out of the headlines for a while, there's a dear . . .'?'

'And why ever not?'

'It's not exactly his style, for a start. One can't imagine John Birt calling anyone 'darling'.'

'Well, no names, no pack drill, but I can tell you some very august people, some royal, some not, have come to me in a desperate state recently and said, 'Adrian, old dear, if you can't get us out of the headlines, nobody can'.'

'And you have?'

'I have.'

'And how do you get people out of the headlines?'

'There is only one surefire way. And that is to provide the papers with a better story than the one you want them to drop.'

'You mean, give them Asil Nadir instead of John Birt?'

'Spot on.'

'Michael Mates instead of Marmaduke Hussey?'

'Spot on again.'

'I see,' I said. 'But then Asil Nadir will sooner or later be desperate to get out of the headlines. And he might turn to you. Unaware that you put him there in the first place.'

Adrian winked.

'Naughty old world, isn't it?' he said. At that moment the barman returned with the drinks and Adrian's phone rang.

'Hello?' He listened. 'I'm terribly sorry, old boy, but that's too big an operation for me.' He put the phone down firmly.

'Between you, me and the gatepost,' said Adrian, 'it was a certain England cricket selector, requesting a bit of an image-boost. Talk about mission impossible. . .'

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