1968: Born in Cheshire, England.
2000-2003: editor of News of the World.
2003-present: editor of The Sun.

Rebekah Wade is one of the most powerful and most reviled figures in British newspapers. To some she is a hate-monger who sells newspapers by inciting violence and attacking the weak and the French; but she is also one of the most successful and admired tabloid editors working today.

Early life

She was born in May, 1968 and raised in Daresbury, Cheshire, England. She decided on a career in journalism aged fourteen and worked part-time for wannabe press baron Eddy Shah's Messenger newspaper group. After leaving school, Cheshire Grammar, she spent two years in Paris working and studying at the Sorbonne (a first for a British tabloid editor, although it is unclear what, if any, qualification she gained there). Whilst in Paris, she contributed articles (in French) to Architecture Aujourd'hui magazine.

Back in England, she soon moved to Rupert Murdoch's mass-market Sunday newspaper the News of the World, working on the magazine. She became deputy editor of the NoW in 1998 under Phil Hall, then transferred to the same position on daily sister title The Sun, under Stuart Higgins.

News of the World

In 2000 she returned to the News of the World, the biggest-selling English-language paper in the world, as editor. She soon made a reputation based on aggressive journalism and controversial stories.

In the wake of the murder of eight year old Sarah Payne by Roy Whiting, a man convicted of sexual offences against children, the paper decided that something had to be done to protect society from pedophiles. The paper launched a "name and shame" campaign printing names and photographs of people convicted of similar sexual crimes.

Many police officers claimed that the campaign wrecked investigations and drove pedophiles undercover away from surveillance. The Chief Constable of Gloucestershire at the time, Tony Butler, attacked the paper for "grossly irresponsible" journalism.

The campaign led to a number of cases of vigilante action, many against innocent targets; in one famous instance, a South Wales pediatrician was attacked by people who couldn't tell the difference between pediatrics and pedophilia. Iain Armstrong, an innocent Mancunian, was beaten by a mob because he wore a neck-brace similar to that in one photograph, and there were other attacks and threats of violence (some against the police) elsewhere. Convicted child-abuser James White committed suicide after being named.1

The paper overlooked the fact that in the overwhelming majority of cases where a child is murdered, the killer is a parent or step-parent. Wade continued to publish more names in defiance of the police and the Home Office. It was a major contribution to Britain's pedophile panic of the time (see Brass Eye).

Wade's refusal to give interviews to press or television increased the condemnation of her tactics. She also failed in her stated intention, which was to force the government to produce a public list of convicted sex offenders; the violent public reaction to the paper probably did much to show the government the risks of an open register.

The paper was also repeatedly in trouble with the press complaints commission for stings conducted on various celebrities and the cast of Emmerdale. It performed a number of invasions of privacy with no conceivable public interest, such as exposing The Weakest Link contestant Jenny Male as a former prostitute.

Overall, her campaigns and exposes managed to maintain the News of the World's sales at around 4 million, despite falls in sales of its rivals the Sunday Mirror and the People.

The Sun

In 2003, she became the first woman to edit a popular national daily, replacing David Yelland at the Sun. Yelland unexpectedly resigned that January, despite a largely successful editorship which had made some attempts to take the paper (relatively) upmarket.

In her early days at the paper, she has moved the paper to be more critical of the Labour government in most areas, whilst staunchly supporting Tony Blair in his plans to launch a war against Iraq. The Sun has traditionally been the British soldier's friend abroad, sending patriotic messages and topless girls to wherever they are fighting. The paper has continued its generally jingoistic stance, attacking immigration and the European Union, and branding French President Jacques Chirac a "worm". It repeated the insult in a special issue of the paper distributed on the streets of Paris in reprisal for the French government's opposition to an invasion of Iraq.

In September 2003 she outraged many readers with a story reporting the treatment for mental illness of much-loved British ex-boxer Frank Bruno with the headline "Bonkers Bruno Locked Up" and text that labelled the TV personality and pantomime star a "nut".

She followed up the News of the World's paedophile-naming campaign by introducing "Shop a Yob" in The Sun in October 2003. The paper published the names, ages and photographs of teenage offenders; most were aged above 18, but some were as young as 13, prompting criticism that this was in breach of children's rights in law and the Press Complaints Commission's code of conduct regarding children's right to privacy.

Wade has also indicated she has no plans to scrap the topless pictures of women published on the paper's Page Three, despite the antipathy of many women (and men) to this feature.

Personal

Wade is apparently obsessively ambitious and driven, devoting all her time to her job. She was a founder member of the networking organisation Woman in Journalism; her skills at making contacts and getting people to talk are widely praised. She is described as very knowledgeable about all areas the newspaper covers, from news to sport, and as being cool and professional, not brash or flirty like the female journalists of caricature (e.g. Private Eye's Glenda Slagg or Fleet Street legend Eve Pollard).2

She lives with the actor Ross Kemp, best known for playing Grant Mitchell in EastEnders. Who wouldn't want to eavesdrop on their domestic life? Like her boss Murdoch, Wade is a natural Tory while Kemp is an ardent Labour supporter; and he is exactly the kind of celebrity who is easy prey for greedy tabloid newspapers. They have no children as yet.

She managed to wangle an invitation to Prince Charles's fiftieth birthday party, and was also briefly friends with Tony Blair's wife Cherie. That was until details came to light of a planned sting by her paper on Cherie's links with convicted fraudster Peter Foster. This ended the budding relationship rather abruptly.

A great future is foreseen for her, but what higher peaks could she head for now?


1For the incidents described in this paragraph and the quotation in the previous paragraph, see BBC News, "A paper's controversial campaign", BBCi website, December 16, 2001, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1709708.stm

2This paragraph based on John Arlidge, "The Screws missile", The Observer, July 30, 2000, http://www.observer.co.uk/comment/story/0,6903,348708,00.html


Sources:

  • John Arlidge. "The Screws missile". The Observer. July 30, 2000. http://www.observer.co.uk/comment/story/0,6903,348708,00.html
  • BBC News. "Sun editor resigns". BBCi website. January 13, 2003. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/2653935.stm
  • BBC News. "Rebekah's controversial rise to the top". BBCi website. January 13, 2003. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1714303.stm
  • BBC News. "A paper's controversial campaign". BBCi website. December 16, 2001. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1709708.stm
  • Ciar Byrne. "Sun's anti-yob campaign raises 'lynch mob' fears". The Guardian. October 20, 2003. http://media.guardian.co.uk/presspublishing/story/0,7495,1065602,00.html
  • Roy Greenslade. "Empress of the Sun". The Guardian. January 14, 2003. http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,3604,874340,00.html
  • Owen Gibson. "Sun on the ropes over 'Bonkers Bruno' story". The Guardian. September 23, 2003. http://media.guardian.co.uk/presspublishing/story/0,7495,1047966,00.html
  • Henry Porter. "Time to call the editors to account". The Guardian. April 18, 2001. http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,3604,474354,00.html

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.