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Kylie, cancer, karma, and me...

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Byline InvestigationsBy Paul McMullan in Dover, England
Kylie, cancer, karma, and me...
He was a tabloid newsman who lived and breathed celebrity exclusives for 30 years. Now Paul McMullan is facing the biggest twist in his own life story: cancer. Here, in a warts-and-all new column, he talks about his career, illness, and the maggoty apple of karma...

Paul McMullan in 2005

LAST WEEK on my way home from hospital, and I will get to that in a minute, the M20 was closed and we decided to take a detour cross-country.

Going round in circles with the help of a sat-nav should have been annoying, but it turned into an absolute delight.

Lost somewhere in the ‘darling buds’ haven of mid-Kent you could see why Shakespeare coined the phrase.

And as the road narrowed to a single track it really was like being on the set of the 90s TV show of the same name.

I am an arsehole. I don’t mind saying it. Leonardo DiCaprio called me an arsehole. Even my wife calls me an arsehole. There are a few things I have done in the course of my 30-year career that really define it...

Our mobile phones lost their signals, I switched the sat-nav off, and we relaxed.

Just 20 miles south of a horrific snarl up on the M25, we were in a nature lover’s version of paradise; a very green and pleasant land indeed.

And just to emphasise the stark contrast with the hustle of London, at the end of a farm track there was a stall piled high with nature’s bounty,

As blistering summer slipped quietly into golden autumn, apples were the main crop. It was as if Ma Larkin had carried them, beneath her ample bosom, from the fields and put them there herself.

Darling Buds: apples and karma

But no farmer, no wife, nor beautiful daughter was there.

In their place was a sign saying, ‘Bag Of Apples, £1’ and a cardboard box with a slot crudely cut in the top.

As my wife bagged up some apples I fumbled around in my pockets for some change and put in 55p.

You did put in a pound?” asked the wife.

Pfffff, yes,” I replied.

Maybe my career of nastiness did it to me, maybe it didn’t. Maybe it was too much wine or too many cigarettes. The doctors actually think it might be the last five years of living in the countryside and exposure to pesticides. But I have cancer.

Later as she was making some kind of a pie with coconut flour and bananas - well I didn’t marry her for her cooking - and stewing up the apples, I confessed I had only put in 55p.

You know there is something called karma don’t you, we have to go back,” she said.

I don’t believe in karma. I am a News of the World phone hacker who did nasty things to nasty people and wrote nasty stories about them. But the next day I was driving us both around mid-Kent again.

Was it near a village called Peckham or Pluckley and wasn’t there a pub called The Ship or The Swan nearby?”

We never found it.

I spent £40 in petrol trying to put 45p in a box. I don’t know if that wipes out the karma or not.

It brought to mind one thing: going back to the hospital.

Maybe my career of nastiness did it to me, maybe it didn’t. Maybe it was too much wine or too many cigarettes. The doctors actually think it might be the last five years of living in the countryside and exposure to pesticides.

But I have cancer. It’s not an immediately terminal one, but it is one - bone cancer - that afflicts farmers more than anybody else.

The apples, I hope, were organic.

I grew up with Kylie, watching her romance with Jason Donovan on Neighbours, listening to her records. I was, at heart, a fan. I loved her like Scott loved Charlene.

I am no expert, well I am in that I have got it, but all I know for sure is that if you put things on the land that kills life it will also kill us.

If you kill the maggots that eat the apples by using nasty chemicals you will in time also kill the people who eat them.

Grandparents of the world, listen. If you want to protect your children and your grandchildren you can do one thing immediately, you can go to your garden shed and throw away all those plastic containers of pesticide, weed killer and slug killer.

You are too old to get cancer yourselves, but your grandchildren are not.

The same goes for grandma. Anything underneath your kitchen sink that kills bacteria or germs will also, in time, kill your children - and your children’s children.

In France they have a strict privacy law, and over the border in Switzerland it is even against the law to take a picture without someone’s permission. It makes it really easy to operate - because they are simply not expecting it...

It is just a fact. I will say it one more time - the only thing the professionals know for sure about my condition, multiple myeloma, is this: chemicals that kill life also kill us.

Professor Jamie Cavenagh, Britain’s leading expert, whom I was fortunate enough to see, told me: “We don’t know what causes it but I see a lot of farmers in my clinic, and that’s quite a lot to know.”

Science - we hope - will come up with an answer in 20 or 30 years. But in the meantime maybe revert to your great grandmother’s cleaning cupboard, and fill it with vinegar, lemon and baking powder. It is cheaper anyway.

And if there is a maggot in your apple, think yourself lucky.

Perhaps I was a maggot in the apple of the lives of a hundred or so celebrities I casually destroyed in my career at the News of the World, the Sunday Express, The People and lastly The National Enquirer. These were tabloid sleaze rags like no others, looking for the worst in people, and broadcasting it to the world.

Kylie Minogue is famous.

She was there at the beginning of my career in the late 1980s and unbelievably she is still there at the top. Her latest album, ‘Golden’ went straight to number one. If you should be so lucky, lucky, lucky to have a copy, have a listen.

Kylie like me had cancer.

Softer side: Paul with son

I am an arsehole. I don’t mind saying it. Leonardo DiCaprio called me an arsehole. Even my wife calls me an arsehole. There are a few things I have done in the course of my 30-year career that really define it.

All things Kylie-related sold newspapers: Kylie’s new boyfriend, Kylie’s old boyfriend, Kylie’s fantastic shiny bum. I spent weeks in Paris working on Kylie stories.

All that is fine. It is just silly. It helps her sell records. And to be honest, it is why most of her boyfriends went out with her in the first place. It is a cruel life. Fame is shit.

Walking through those hospital corridors, Nikon bulging in my coat... I have never so much wanted to fail in my life...

In France they have a strict privacy law, and over the border in Switzerland it is even against the law to take a picture without someone’s permission. It makes it really easy to operate - because they are simply not expecting it.

You do nert ‘av ma permission to take ze picture,” they say, shocked at my flashgun firing and my motor drive whirring.

Ah but I am selling the picture in America where they have freedom of speech so you can go fuck yourself.”

Arsehole, you see.

So there I was in the Paris hospital where Diana had died after being chased by the paparazzi, with a camera under my coat.

Kylie, just like me now, had lost all her hair.

It is going back 13 years, and I am (truly) overjoyed to see Kylie alive and well, and looking fit and healthy again, and with plenty of hair.

But back then, the money - the million dollar shot - was Kylie bald.

I know how I hid myself away after treatment. I didn’t tell anybody for a year. It was my secret.

Kylie’s secret was worth a lot of money. And in place of a bouquet of flowers, I had a large professional camera and a 70-200 medium zoom lens.

I wasn’t going to kick in the door of her room and turn on the flashgun and let her have it. To be honest I don’t think any newspapers would have used it anyway, even in 2005.

I was, by the way, on commission - at £250 a day - and under instructions from The People where I was freelancing after quitting the staff at News of the World.

The idea was to get into the hospital and hide in the grounds and get a picture of her when she came out.

Sick: The Sunday People newspaper was fixated on Kylie Minogue's illness

Walking through those hospital corridors, Nikon bulging in my coat - these were the days before mobile phones took printable pictures - I have never so much wanted to fail in my life.

Arsehole though I was, I still felt ill.

I grew up with Kylie, watching her romance with Jason Donovan on Neighbours, listening to her records. I was, at heart, a fan. I loved her like Scott loved Charlene.

When stars hide away, it makes pictures of them more valuable. Had Kylie just walked hatless down the Champs-Elysees, hair all gone due to high dose chemo, everyone would have got a picture, and there would have been no exclusive.

It is the drive to get the big money exclusive shot that no one else can get that motivates newspapers and their reporters and photographers. Elvis Presley in his coffin, is what people want. It makes magazines fly off shelves. People like to be horrified.

A picture of Kylie with no hair would have meant an extra print run. The People, that week, might have outsold the Sunday Mirror, the Mail on Sunday, even the News of the World. It would have syndicated round the world and made a lot of money.

And so, to karma’s maggoty apple.

Treatment: World-leading cancer treatment centre in Paris

With my very big camera, I stalked up and down the corridors of the Institut Gustave-Roussy. I tried - I really tried. Out in the grounds I hid behind a bush, watching and waiting. I went every day, from dawn ‘til dusk.

But I didn’t get a shot.

Thirteen years later I have the Farmer’s Disease; bone cancer - or more accurately cancer of the marrow inside the bone - and I am hooked up to a machine that is taking all the blood out of my body twice over and cleaning it and then pumping it back in again.

I am at University College Hospital London. My treatment is very expensive. My drugs cost £25,000 a month, and this machine is worth more than my house.

Oddly, I am not a burden at all on the NHS: all of it is being funded by an American drugs trial and charitable donations.

I asked the nurse: “How much was this machine?”

I have no idea,” she said. “It was given to us. We have a number of stars who help us raise money. And then the children decide whose name should be put on the machine.”

I looked to my left.

It said: Kylie

#paul mcmullan, #sunday people, #kylie minogue, #breast cancer

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