Rebekah Uncovered: Part 2
I worked at News of the World initially as a freelance as I was based in France running the English desk of a small agency, called Europorters. I didn’t come up with the name but did point out that in English it sounded like we were carrying people’s bags.
One of my jobs was to track down Princess Diana’s lover Major James Hewitt to his French hideaway but, while given details of when and where he had crossed the channel, I wasn’t let into much more.
It wasn’t until Rebekah Brooks gave me my first full time contract in early 1995 that guaranteed me £700 a week as long as I didn’t work for anyone else that the secrets began to unfold.
I had worked on about 15 ‘showbizz’ exclusives under Piers Morgan’s editorship and with Rebekah Brooks as my direct boss as Features Editor by the summer of ‘95 I had become a loyal and consequently trusted member of staff. I kept that trust and all those secrets for 25 years until Rebekah dumped on her staff, saying it was us and not her, in 2010 and the cops started banging on our doors. Before they could shut me up I dodged the cops went on live TV instead.
My main job, as you will see with Faldo, was to get the illegal stuff she had received into the paper without giving the game away. Piers, as he kept telling us, was driven to taking the paper back over the magical five million sales a week mark and the ethos, certainly in the features department, was spend, spend, spend and then overspend and we will get more.
Five million sales a week seems incredible by today’s standards, nearly everyone in the country would glance at the front page and nearly half the adult population would flick through it.
It had tremendous influence and advertising revenue was massive. There was no internet. If you wanted to sell a car or a pair of shoes you had to put an advert in a mass circulation newspaper and at News of the World even a relatively small ad was £30,000.
I was dispatched to the British Open to cover the golfers hopefully playing around after finishing a round. The 1992 winner, Nick Faldo was the number one target.
He was staying in the Old Course Hotel. It had 5 stars. It bordered the edge of the Old Course at St Andrews itself. Only the richest pros could afford to stay there on Open weekend. The normal rates of £300 a night could treble or quadruple during a tournament.
That was no problem, our expenses budget, excluding salaries, I discovered when promoted a little while later was £3.1m. I checked in on the same floor as Faldo. A News of the World reporter’s travel company account was as good as a golf pros.
It was great but only bed and breakfast was included and when I arrived I really fancied a cup of tea. In 5* hotels, as I found out looking, there are no tea and coffee making facilities in the room, they can bring you one instantly but it was 18 quid.
There had long been rumours that Faldo had been knocking them home with someone who wasn’t his wife who was there by his side when he last won the open.
Rebekah told me not to worry, “We are not there on a watching brief, he is there with his wife and kids, we don’t need to catch him at it.”
There were further discussions on what was the point of me being there if we knew he was having an affair.
The reality was, all we had were tape recordings of conversations of secret assignations and sexy chats and mobile phone messages between Faldo and his lover.
“We have it all already on tape, there is absolutely no problem with proof, there is no way he can sue. It is 100% true, you don’t have to get it on tape, all you have to do is to sidle up to Faldo somewhere in the hotel and get talking to him and get him to confess. If comes down to a straight front up just front him up,” Rebekah said.
A front up means telling him straight. It means saying, ‘Hello Paul McMullan, News of the World, we have tape recordings of you having sex with a woman who is not your wife, do you want us to run it like that or do you want to give your side of the story, you know, I was stressed, the marriage was over, something like that, we can make you look good.”
That was the plan and it had worked. Such was the fear News of the World put into people some crumbled. A few weeks earlier during a front up with the star of Gladiator, the top rating TV show, ‘Shadow’ as he was known blurted out, “Yes Ok I done a line, I am sorry to my fans, I done a line of cocaine, write it so the kids don’t hate me.”
Oh right thanks mate. I was lying about the tapes we didn’t actually have anything but we do now. Sploosh, splash, splosh, straight on the front page. He doesn’t like me much.
I couldn’t find Faldo for the first day. Maybe he was playing golf. It wasn’t until the following morning over breakfast I got him, when he walked into the dining room with his wife and two children and sat down and had breakfast. She and his female caddy Fanny were his biggest supporters.
It was morning of the first round of the British Open, ‘how the hell am I supposed to front him up about him shagging someone else right in front of his wife.’
It was Saturday morning, the paper was going to press in about 15 hours. The pressure was really on. I couldn’t afford to lose him again so I followed him around as best I could until his wife finally went up to their room.
He walked out onto the practice putting area on The Old Course. I was wearing a dark blue suit and black leather shoes, a white shirt and a tie. On a golf course I stuck out like a sore thumb.
I strode up to him, I had practised what I was going to say. “Mr Faldo, Paul McMullan, News of the World,” as I spoke as small boy of 6 or 7 ran over to him. It was his son. ‘Oh shit.’
Now, I am not a bad person, I don’t know if I had a bad job or a good job. I don’t know if I was supposed to be the celebrity police. MPs are easy they are all arseholes, judges too but a golfer. Rebekah hired me because I wrote entertaining features, I was an entertainer as much as Mr Faldo entertains. I like golf.
I fluffed it. “We have you on tape leaving sexy messages for another woman who is not your wife, what have you got to say,” was my prepared script, but I said nothing, I was thrown by the small boy looking up at me clinging onto his father’s leg.
Faldo looked me in the eye, I sensed fear. He pulled his boy with him as he turned his back and hurried away. Shit, shit, shit, this was going badly, I knew he was guilty. He was acting guilty running away, but he needed to say something, the tape recorder whirring in my pocket needed to record something so we could publish.
In my desk back at the office I had a compilation tape of half a dozen celebrities shouting obscenities, Liz Hurley, “Oh do fuck orf,” DeCaprio, “you’re an asshole,” that kind of thing. Anything is better than nothing.
On the putting green the story was running away. It was a front page story. I had Rebekah Brooks and Piers Morgan, waiting on the other end of the phone, waiting to set the presses running with my big exclusive.
I ran after him. I pulled out my note book. Me in my dark blue suit chasing Britain’s best golfer and his son across the greens at the Old Course. “Mr Faldo are you getting a divorce,” I shouted. It seemed better than shouting about sex with another woman, the boy might not know what it was.
He said nothing, nothing, and with his putter and son’s half size club in his hand scurried back into the hotel. I was left standing outside, crushed but not ready to give up.
He had to come out again. I knew exactly when, he was playing golf, it was the British Open, it was written above my head in large letters on the score board, never have I been more certain of the whereabouts of anyone than at that particular time. Nick Faldo, 9.30, first tee, St Andrews, Old Course. I was still there when he came out to play.
In golf you can stand right by them and I stood at the front as he teed off on the first round of the Championship, a dark blue suit in a mass of Pringle, I gave him a little wave.
He played terribly. While the 'rough-and-tumble' heavy drinking and smoking American 'hero' John Daley and Costantino Rocca slugged it out Faldo couldn't even make the leader board.
Rebekah rang me up on my mobile on the sixth hole. Both she and Piers had been watching my progress on live TV.
“We are worried we might get the blame for him losing the Open,” she said. “No, I am sure I can get him alone again. There are no barriers on the fairway. I can get him when he walks to his next shot.”
I hung up and ran after him, I was looking for a way past the stewards when my phone rang again.
“Pull off,” Rebekah said, “that’s an order.” I was devastated. I felt a total failure. I wanted to be the best reporter in the world. We had concrete proof. This story would shift millions of papers, my name would be on the front page. There had to be a way.
“We have all next week,” said Rebekah, “you can stay up in Scotland if you want or fly home.”
I flew home.
The front up worked, in a way. The PRs started putting together ‘damage limitation,’ stories as they called them. I don’t know what happened to the Faldo story, I didn’t care. It did run but with someone else’s name on it. I didn’t want to read it.
It seems like a world away now. I was so young, so determined. The taste for it has gone. The best-selling papers, The Daily Mail, The Sun barely reach a million and a half, which is still quite a lot but nothing like what we used to do.
The internet and selfies are with us. People seem to front up themselves. The idea of the nasty reporter with a tape recorder and a hidden camera catching you out seems to be in the past. It was good though.
Just before the News of the World closed the BBC sent a chauffeur driven E Class Mercedes to my house. It was black with black leather seats. Nice car. They put me up in a 5* hotel. No fucking tea. I was going to have a chat with Steve Coogan one of my old adversaries. Someone thought it might make good TV.
“You ever buy the paper?” I asked the driver. “I used to get it every week,” he replied.
“Oh great, why did you stop?”
“When you guys stopped doing all that hacking stuff, there wasn’t much in it anymore.”
“No I suppose there wasn’t.”
That made me laugh.
In 1995 when I went to front up Nick Faldo, the next day five million people walked to the newsagents, put their hand in their pocket and pulled out a pound to see what we had been up to. You can’t win them all, I wasn’t in that week’s paper.