Sorry, more about Rebekah B…
When I left News International at Wapping in 1991, a young woman 11 years my junior was just starting her career there. Maybe we passed on the stairs? She most certainly would have been the one going up!
Rebekah Wade, as she was then, the “flame-haired temptress” in the joke cliché beloved of British satirists, was not a journalist but a secretary. In the law, medicine, other professions, an unqualified person cannot take on the role of the practitioner. But journalism is one of the few fields where a person can literally work their way up from sweeping the floor or running errands – it happened a lot in the 20th century and is still possible today. It’s a good thing, but does undermine the claims many of us, including me, would like to make for journalism being regarded as a profession.
But Rebekah Wade/Kemp/Brooks’s talents cannot be classified in a traditional way – other than that of the courtesan, the wildly successful female enchantress of men of power.
For the unusual thing about Brooks, it appears, is that she has succeeded with charm and grit, and seduced [not, of course, in the physical sense] all those around her from mogul Rupert Murdoch to former PM’s wife Sarah Brown.
The moment when Murdoch, having flown to London because of the Milly Dowler hacking scandal, was asked his priority and replied “This one”, indicating Brooks, has become one of the most famous, extraordinary and puzzling, aspects of the whole business.
Descriptions of her effect on powerful people echo comments on Bill Clinton, in that the beam of her gaze seemed to indicate that the person she was meeting was the most fascinating, important, and possibly sexy, individual in the world. However, this effect seemed only to be deployed on VIPs, and not, as a politician would have to, on ordinary plebs.
Brooks’ image to the world consisted of her sex-flag of hair and As the 2012 Vanity Fair profile of her by Suzanna Andrews described it, a “Mona Lisa smile…as if she knows something she’s not telling.”
While social media erupted with astonishment at Brooks’s acquittal on all phone-hacking conspiracy charges on June 24, even Nick Davies of The Guardian told the BBC’s Newsnight that “I sat in the court room for nearly eight weeks, and I would have acquitted her”.
Brooks seems able to enchant just about everyone – no doubt it is all very studied, yet comes across as completely natural. Otherwise savvy operators such as David Cameron, Tony Blair and Piers Morgan would see right through her with their fake-detecting antenna, right?
Removing my tongue from my cheek, it’s only left to list Lily Langtry, mistress of the Prince of Wales and loads of other toffs 100 years ago; Mathilde Kschessinskaya, who did much the same sort of thing in Russia; Madame Pompadour or even, er, Wendi Deng? But these ladies played a role chiefly as sexual partner and fascinator, whereas Brooks was – and may well be again – a figure of power and achievement on male terms. She was the archetypal irresistible female, but with her hands on the lever at the most important media group in Britain – or not, as her not guilty verdict seems to suggest.