All quotes from interview with The New Statesman
The publicist Max Clifford has been represented in the media as a swine, a hypocrite, and a thug but he may well be the apotheosis of the media and the logical extension of politicians' new fervour for moral intervention.
His remarkable success in finding a whole wave of "sleaze" and "human interest" stories for the tabloid press has been unsurpassed over the last ten or more years. And yet Max Clifford is not merely an example of the degradation of the media or of politics in general. Without that degredation he could never have been.
Clifford has carefully constructed his own myth - which appears rock-solid - in the same way that he puts "spin" of the stories of his clients. He offers as its major parts:- a durable and affectionate marriage to his wife, Liz, partly built round care for their severely disabled daughter Louise, whose affliction from severe rheumatoid arthritis means she will spend her life - she's in her twenties - having her joints replaced. From nearly two decades of pushing for the best medical treatment for Louise, Clifford has developed, he says, a deep hatred for the Conservative Party because of what they have done to the British National Health Service.
If the decline of the NHS has really done this to Clifford, it has made of him a militant with a more deadly armoury than that available to the Left's street protesters.
He was not born to class hatred, though his family background does contain an ideological drama. His father was one of eight siblings in a wealthy, Conservative-voting family whose money came from property. He started in the family business, collecting rents, but revolted, broke with the family and became a socialist. Clifford's elder brother became a Labour councillor, then mayor of Merton. His elder sister, on the other hand, became a diplomat, married a South African and "did extremely well there on a farm, like the rest of them, using slave labour".
Clifford himself drifted into public relations after a spell as a local sports reporter.
He did ordinary publicity at first, but somewhere an idea germinated. Clifford grasped that as tabloid journalism explored the more and more outré possibilities of hype in the eighties, truth was a relative commodity. The famous lived in worlds whose details could be created, as long as the subjects of the stories were not aggrieved enough to sue --or were royal and did not sue. His first essay of this type was in 1984, when a client named Vicki Macdonald was linked to Prince Andrew. There was nothing in it but everyone won from it, except Prince Andrew.
His breakthrough came in 1986, when the Sun ran the "Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster" splash headline. It contained much of what would later be Clifford's imprimatur - an outrageous story, with a germ of something in it. It did Starr a great deal of good. It did Clifford even more.
In the nineties he came into his own. In revealing the peccadilloes of David Mellor, Sir Peter Harding, Alan Clark and Jerry Hayes, Clifford took aim at the heart of what he saw as a rotten, hypocritical establishment. Now, increasingly, he operates in the wilderness area between public virtue and private vice, making the former account for the latter. People climb the narrow stairs to his offices in New Bond Street to swamp him with revelations, with the secrets and allegations and revenges of British society. His technique is to deflect most of these to contacts in newspapers, to say "this looks interesting, why don't you have a look?" Only a few will he keep for himself, to work up as a package.
"I timed the Hayes thing, certainly, though it came to me, I didn't go out to look for it. But I wanted to remind the British people of what the Conservative Party, the party of family values, is really like. The British people have to fight to know what's going on."
Clifford's hand is seen everywhere -- an image he encourages. He says he has helped policewomen to complain of sexual harrassment and has exposed the sex life of at least one Bishop. He is routinely said to have arranged this or exposed that, even when he denies it.
"The media are the best chance we have. Not for setting an example - there's as much corruption and the rest of it there as anywhere else. But the papers are the best chance we've got of letting people know what's actually happening out there. And of shaming the people who do it. People say I'm judge and jury. I'm not. I'm the messenger. People can make up their own minds."
In this Clifford may be right. He is the messenger of a new form of message, which the politics of morality and the media of personality make inevitable. The stressing of family values and the implicit or explicit use of the politician's family to give an aura of decency to the political career invites retaliation, especially in a culture which does not, as some continental European ones do, assume an easy dissonance between family and private sexual licence. The Anglo-American political family is a straitjacket for its members and they stray from it at their peril. The largest peril is Max Clifford.
He is a peril for the Conservatives, who must fear him as much as they do any of Labour's media consultants, but he is also a peril for the Labour government, whose ministers and back benchers produce roughly the same amount of sexual deviance, adultery, abuse of power and desperation to cover up as the Tory one did. What can Labour do?
Nothing about Clifford himself, or the tabloid press he serves. The only route that Clifford points out of the moral morass is that of dropping the habit of talking about morality. But it is hard to see that happening. The stairs to Clifford's office will creak with those bearing more scandals for years yet.
December 1984: Prince Andrew romantically linked to dancer Vicki Macdonald at a West End club. Soon revealed as Clifford's invention to promote his clients, Macdonald and the club.
- Or, in full, from March 1986: "Freddie Starr ate my Hamster" Sun splash. Clifford took a bland story by Starr's ex-girl-friend Lea La Salle, whose hamster Starr had shocked into a heart attack - a very easy thing to do - and exaggerated it into Starr eating the live hamster in a sandwich. Revived Starr's career.
- August 1987: aimed to transform the image of Derek Hatton, Liverpool's Militant leader, in preparation for a TV career. Sightings with beautiful women in clubs led to man-about-town photos and a new image as "Degsy". Peaked with photo of Hatton and Princess Diana's cousin, actress Katie Baring. Emerged later that the "date" was entirely staged as publicity for both parties and the two had barely spoken to one another. "Amazing the papers fell for it, isn't it?" said Hatton. Clifford denies Hatton paid him.
- March 1989: socialite and aspiring actress Pamella Bordes hit the headlines after the release of the film Scandal, retelling the story of the Profumo disgrace. Clifford-inspired "Call girl works in Commons" News of the World story to coincide. She was meant to vanish while the story blew over and then launch her acting career. Clifford warned that a "kiss and tell" story would ruin it, but Bordes sold her story (for an estimated 300,000) while in Bali. Her acting career flopped, as did her relationship with Andrew Neil. Clifford says she paid him nothing and they never spoke.
- July 1992: The People reported an affair between unknown actress Antonia de Sancha and Heritage Secretary David Mellor. De Sancha approached Clifford, who arranged public appearances at a film premiere, a club that he promoted and an Aids Awareness photo shoot. Clifford embellished the story with fictional, but headline-grabbing details, concerning the sucking of toes and Mellor's taste for wearing Chelsea soccer kit in bed, details which a "friend" (an unsuccessful novelist client of Clifford's called Joanna Horaim Ashbourn) passed to the Sun and the Mirror. Ashbourn got publicity for her novel and de Sancha 100,000 sterling from interviews and photo shoots. Mellor resigned. De Sancha is still Clifford's pal.
- November 1993: the Mirror published secretly taken photographs of Princess Diana at her gym, LA Fitness, which was a client of Clifford's. Its owner (and the photographer) Bryce Taylor approached him for help. He expected Bryce to make 1 million from the photos but an injunction sent the deal awry. "Bryce was only in this for the money and he's made a lot of money," says Clifford: as much as 500,000, say the rumours.
- March 1994: Bienvenida Sokolow, the former wife of Conservative MP Sir Antony Buck, approached Clifford claiming blackmail over an affair with Sir Peter Harding, chief of the defence staff. Clifford advised the sale of the story to the News of the World - though he says the front-page photograph of the two kissing outside the Dorchester was "tacky" and emphatically not his work. Lady Buck claimed Harding discussed defence secrets in bed, another Profumo echo. Sokolow made an estimated 300,000 and Harding resigned.
- May/June 1994: Sokolow also helped arrange a deal between Clifford and the Harkess "coven". The wife and daughters of one of Alan Clark's close friends both claimed to have slept with the former defence minister. They also alleged that Clark bribed them to keep this secret and leaked a lucrative arms market tip to Mrs Harkess, charges he denied. Clifford claimed his motive was principle not money, but it prompted fierce criticism from Quentin Bell, chairman of the PR Consultants' Association.
- May 1996: Clifford was hired by Granada Television to push a UK visit by the recently acquitted OJ Simpson. OJ traversed the entire UK social spectrum, appearing on Tonight with Richard and Judy and at the Oxford Union. According to Clifford, it "changed world opinion about OJ".
- August-October 1996: aware that news of her multiple pregnancy was about to reach the press, Mandy Allwood asked Clifford for help. He arranged a News of the World interview and talked to baby food and nappy companies. Despite criticism, Clifford defended his actions, saying: "She will need every penny she can get." He later claimed that reports of a payment by the NoW of 125,000 for each baby that survived were false. After all eight babies died, Clifford tried to limit press coverage of the funeral. Mandy Allwood made an estimated 350,000.
- January 1997: the News of the World published the Clifford-fed story of Tory MP Jerry Hayes's gay affair with an 18-year old. Hayes denied the relationship was physical. Clifford threatens further sleaze stories before the election. At the time, the gay age of consent in the UK was twenty-one years old.