I’m not Hugh Grant’s biggest fan. All the quintessential, foppish, clumsy Englishness gets to me almost as much as the fact that so many women seem to unquestioningly adore him. Nonetheless, after reading the beginning of his article in today’s New Statesman, I had to hand it to him – he’s an enviably cunning so-and-so. The done-upmanship displayed was absolutely terrific.
For those readers not up to speed on the goings on of the British press, the News of the World newspaper illegally bugged the phones of celebrities (including the Royal Family). Grant was also a victim of the newspaper’s scandalous behaviour and therefore jumped at the opportunity to turn the tables. He encountered the former News of the World journalist, Paul McMullan, who unwittingly spoke of how his editor-in-chief had known of the fact that his paper was illegally hacking people’s phones. The cherry on top, however, is the style in which Grant writes the piece. You can veritably hear his voice as you read it:
When I broke down in my midlife crisis car in remotest Kent just before Christmas, a battered white van pulled up on the far carriageway. To help, I thought. But when the driver got out he started taking pictures with a long-lens camera. He came closer to get better shots and I swore at him. Then he offered me a lift the last few miles to my destination. I suspected his motives and swore at him some more. (I’m not entirely sympathetic towards paparazzi.) Then I realised I couldn’t get a taxi and was late. So I had to accept the lift.
He turned out to be an ex-News of the World investigative journalist and paparazzo, now running a pub in Dover. He still kept his camera in the car’s glove box for just this kind of happy accident.
More than that, he was Paul McMullan, one of two ex-NoW hacks who had blown the whistle (in the Guardian and on Channel 4’s Dispatches) on the full extent of phone-hacking at the paper, particularly under its former editor Andy Coulson. This was interesting, as I had been a victim – a fact he confirmed as we drove along. He also had an unusual defence of the practice: that phone-hacking was a price you had to pay for living in a free society. I asked how that worked exactly, but we ran out of time, and next thing we had arrived and he was asking me if I would pose for a photo with him, “not for publication, just for the wall of the pub”.
I agreed and the picture duly appeared in the Mail on Sunday that weekend with his creative version of the encounter.He had asked me to drop into his pub some time. So when, some months later, Jemima asked me to write a piece for this paper, it occurred to me it might be interesting to take him up on his invitation.
I wanted to hear more about phone-hacking and the whole business of tabloid journalism. It occurred to me just to interview him straight, as he has, after all, been a whistleblower. But then I thought I might possibly get more, and it might be more fun, if I secretly taped him, The bugger bugged, as it were.
‘The bugger bugged’ – what a line!