Jane Moore: The rise of the Sun queen

She's the longest-serving columnist on Britain's best-selling daily newspaper. She's written four best-selling novels with a fifth on the way – and is hard at work on herlatest TV documentary. But, as Ian Burrell discovers, she's a humble hack at heart

Sunday 23 October 2011 08:10
Jane Moore's fifth novel, Perfect Match, out in June, is expected to be a best seller © Will Wintercross
Jane Moore's fifth novel, Perfect Match, out in June, is expected to be a best seller © Will Wintercross

It was Jane Moore's "Get Me Out Of Here ... I Don't Want To Be A Celebrity!" moment, the one occasion when she really felt what it was like to be burned in print by the searing criticism of a fellow scribe.

After reading a scathing television review of one of her earliest performances in front of the camera, the longest-serving columnist on Britain's biggest-selling daily national newspaper made up her mind, then and there, that her place in the firmament was not among the stars but on The Sun. And to paraphrase the words of that newspaper, it was Stuart Maconie wot done it.

The BBC Radio 2 presenter did not spare the rod in a beating he administered in The Times in 2001, slaughtering Moore as a "disturbingly glacial blonde in slacks" who could only "feign interest" as she presented a show of "Mogadon-strength tedium", namely the mid-morning flop that was Crimewatch Daily.

"He did a whole page mullering me. I was like Oh my God! It was the first time ever that I got a taste of being on the other side; a journalist, one of my own, looking at me as though I wasn't a journalist anymore, as if I was somebody who had put myself into this other position. It really pissed me off."

When she later met Maconie she didn't challenge him – "everything he wrote was right" – and she used the experience as a way of marking out the future direction of her career path. "It was quite a defining moment for me, a real lesson that if you do go into this world you are opening yourself up, and I thought 'No, I don't want that at all.' That's the only time that anyone has ever really written about me."

Moore, 45, is a journalist to her core. She was 11 years old when she decided she wanted to be one, and by 22 she was in Fleet Street, having already worked her way up through the local weeklies and evening dailies. "That's what defines me. If someone says to me at a party 'What do you do?' I say 'I'm a journalist', that's all I ever say."

At home in London, comfy in a girly pink V-neck sweater, jeans and pink shoes, with a cup of coffee and curled up on a sofa underneath a screen-print of Steve McQueen, also in pink, she is not the least bit glacial. But as she sets out her diary of forthcoming engagements, her literary adventures in hardback, glossy magazine and newsprint, her online activities and her Transatlantic televisual escapades, it is clear that hers is no longer an existence easily compared with that of "The Grey Cardigan", the hard-bitten regional evening sub-editor who pens a diary for the Press Gazette trade magazine.

This week she flies off to America to conduct a series of interviews for her latest documentary for Channel 4's Dispatches, an analysis of the British government's plans to introduce a cervical cancer vaccine for teenage girls later this year, following earlier investigations for the same strand on obesity and supermarket labelling. She has just been hired to write a column by the men's magazine GQ. And her fifth novel, Perfect Match, will be out in June, with the expectation that it will follow the previous four into the best-sellers list. Film rights to her second book, The Ex Files, have been acquired by Leonard Goldberg, who produced the Starsky and Hutch television show and the Charlie's Angels movies. In between, she will write her columns for The Sun, a role which she refers to on her personal website as "my proper job".

All very glamorous and exciting but it does not mean she is a celebrity. "I don't think I have the personality to be a celebrity, I don't want to be a celebrity and have deliberately turned down anything that would make me a celebrity," she says, revealing that she has rejected the jungle-based japes of ITV's I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!, not once but twice, as well as C4's Celebrity Big Brother. "There's an unwritten code in our business. I do telly, newspapers and novels but still keep my head below a certain parapet because what I do on telly is journalistic. My colleagues in the newspaper business understand and respect that. If you start raising your hand in the air saying 'Hey, I'm on this programme because I think I'm a celebrity' then you're crossing the line and I think you are opening up a Pandora's Box."

That doesn't mean she won't write about those in the public eye herself. Heather Mills was recently described by Moore as "clearly bitter and typically deranged", and berated for having damaged the prospects of women who follow her into the divorce courts. Girls Aloud singer Cheryl Cole was advised to dump her cheating husband Ashley, the England footballer, and throw "binbags full of his beanie hats and hoodies" into the "monogrammed swimming pool". "Celebrities have chosen a profession that requires them to be listened to or watched by hundreds of thousands of people, they are validated by the amount of people that listen to or watch them, it goes with the territory and if you are thin-skinned as a celebrity you are not going to last very long."

She did once grovel, after castigating Friends actress Courteney Cox over her behaviour during pregnancy. "She was about four minutes pregnant and was pictured wearing these big baggy dungarees. I wrote a piece saying she's clearly going to be one of these dreary women who is going to be the only person on the planet who's ever been pregnant." When a hefty mailbag arrived, pointing out Cox's history of miscarriages, an embarrassed Moore, for once, backed down and published a mea culpa. "I felt mean, so the following week I said thank you for all your letters ... and sort of rolled over on it. It was important for me because I thought I was out of order in that case."

Parenting is a big theme for Moore, whose father, an Oxford professor, walked out of her life when she was a child, leaving her mother, a teacher, to cope alone. "At the risk of sounding Monty Python I grew up on a council estate, from a single parent family, in the days when it was unheard of," she says. Before she married the influential publicist Gary Farrow, Moore experienced life as a single mother herself.

She is precious about both her copy and subject matter ("I don't write to order"), believing that sincerity is everything in a good columnist. She has been voicing her opinions for The Sun for 12 years ("I'm the longest-serving columnist ever, male or female") and says she is in tune with its readership.

As a 22-year-old she shifted on The People before becoming launch news editor of the Daily Sport, which she quit within a month in despair at the absurd stories. Kelvin MacKenzie promptly took her to The Sun, as editor of the "Bizarre" showbusiness column, with the warning: "Don't turn out to be a dingbat." She burned out within a year ("I nearly had a nervous breakdown working for Kelvin. He was a brilliant editor but completely exhausting") but fought her way back to the paper after spells in estate agency, the Today newspaper under David Montgomery (who she much liked) and The Daily Mirror (where she was features editor). "I feel at home at The Sun in a way that I didn't at The Mirror. I just didn't feel that we were singing off the same songsheet. I'm not from up north which I think helps enormously if you work for The Mirror, and they probably thought I was some poncey southerner," she says.

She does not sign up to everything The Sun espouses ("I know how hard it is to be a single mum and it makes me sometimes a bit of a lone voice at The Sun") nor its other columnists. "I don't agree with a lot Jon Gaunt says but I respect his right to say it and he has a big fanbase. I'm pretty sure he thinks we should bring back hanging – I don't. There are things he has written that I will read and think 'Oh God, I don't agree with that'."

She admires the writing of Allison Pearson (the Daily Mail's most liberal voice) and Tony Parsons of The Daily Mirror ("he's somebody who completely writes to his beliefs") and hangs out with friends who write for rival titles, such as Amanda Platell of the Mail and Sue Carroll of The Mirror.

Many are the media workers who claim to have a novel on the go but while others talk about it, Moore has half a shelf at Waterstone's. Her new novel Perfect Match, (which she describes as "meatier" than her previous volumes of chicklit, dealing as it does with terminally ill children and bone marrow transplantation), was set to become Moore's first foray into television script-writing, as it began life as a drama project for the small screen. "When Mal Young was head of drama at the BBC he asked me if I was interested in writing a drama, because a lot of my books are very dialogue based," says Moore. Young left the corporation for Simon Fuller's 19 Entertainment and took the drama script to channel Five, but a change of regime at that broadcaster meant the project "just withered on the vine". So Moore, not easily unnerved, sat down and expanded it into a novel. "All the flesh I had taken off I had to put back on again, it was a bit of a cockeyed way of doing it."

Meanwhile Dylan Jones, the editor of GQ, has hired her to write a monthly "She-Q" column. "It's like dispatches from the powder room. What women really think about things," she says. "Yes, the first one I've done is sex-related, in a very third person kind of way, it's about male orgasms."

And as well as her own slick website, designed primarily to sell books, Moore runs an online operation, You The Jury, where consumers can post reviews of products and services. "I'm getting to the stage where I might flog it off," she says. "I think it's a great idea and definitely there's a market there but it's outside my comfort zone."

She is, after all, a writer. Moore thinks she'll last until a new "20-year-old Julie Burchill" arrives to blow her away. But she's not as convinced as some others that the blogosphere is the natural breeding ground for future journalistic stars. "I don't really understanding blogging, it's like verbal diarrhoea to me," she says. "But it's fantastic for stories because you have celebrities, Lily Allen or whoever, who have a few drinks and then come home, hit their blogs and pour out their deepest, darkest feelings. The next thing you know it's all over the papers." Once a journalist...

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