Max Clifford: downfall of Grub Street’s ultimate sleazeball

More than the story of one man’s hypocrisy: it’s another dagger-blow to Britain’s tabloid culture

(Image credit: 2014 Getty Images)

FOR AS LONG as most Britons can remember, publicist Max Clifford – now convicted of eight counts of indecent assault – has been part of the national furniture. Celebrities in need of image refurbishment turned to him as surely as the ill rich hasten to Harley Street.

Within hours of a media storm breaking, there would be Clifford – immaculate suit, not a silver hair out of place, honeyed tones – alongside his client. The following Sunday one of the red-top papers would run a large, sympathetic spread about the client. The puppet master had once again pulled the right strings.

There was inevitably something deeply ironic about Clifford, the king of the ‘kiss and tell’ story, standing outside court yesterday telling the world that he had been advised by his lawyers to say nothing about his disgrace and fall. It was a case of the sick physician turning elsewhere for his cure. On Friday he will get justice, when the judge hands down his sentence. Clifford has been warned that he may well now get to see the world from the wrong side of prison bars: a view familiar to many he has represented.

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And, despite his several cronies in high places – many of whom are hastening to distance themselves in the hour of Clifford’s disgrace – the one-time friend to the stars will be an awfully lonely man. Already Simon Cowell is reported to have withdrawn his custom: many more of his ilk will follow suit. Eight days of jury deliberation has undone the work of decades of image-building. Clifford, we now know, was as much of a sleazeball as any he represented. He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.

His fall is more than the story of one man’s hypocrisy – using his high-profile status to commit a string of indecent assaults (“When I think of him he makes me shudder and makes me feel ill,” said one of his victims).

After the hacking revelations, it is yet another dagger-blow to Britain’s popular newspaper culture. How many newspaper executives who have supped at Clifford’s table will now be washing their hands of him? “I know thee not old man,” will be on many an editor’s lips today.

The list of Clifford’s clients and victims is the tale of all our Sundays over recent years: Freddie Starr, who never did ‘eat’ that hamster; Tory Cabinet minister David Mellor making extra-marital love to Antonia de Sancha dressed in a Chelsea football kit (Clifford invented that story); he represented Mohamed Fayed, the then owner of Harrods; Derek Hatton, the left-wing Liverpool politician; Rebecca Loos, who claimed to have had an affair with footballer David Beckham. The catalogue of infamy and giggles goes on.

Down the years Clifford has been revealed as having concocted stories, lying, pulling the wool over the eyes of gullible Grub Street hacks, but, until his arrest in 2012, nothing truly touched the man. Many might not have liked what they saw, but the people who mattered to Clifford – the editors and the celebs in need – kept their faith until his dramatic fall. Clifford may now face massive claims for damages from his proven victims; his multi-millionaire lifestyle is as much in jeopardy as his liberty.

What, if anything that we did not already know, has emerged from this sad case? That the age of invulnerability for high-profile men (the late Jimmy Savile, various others in showbiz, the late Cyril Smith, the one-time Rochdale MP whose career of abusing vulnerable boys is now under the microscope) is well and truly over. And no one will be happier about this than the prosecuting authorities who have seen a number of recent much publicised cases crumble in the harsh light of courtroom day.

Will the red-tops mend their ways? They will be more careful – he who sups with the devil must use a long spoon – but the diet of sleaze in high places which Clifford fed his tabloid pals will remain a red-top staple. Who will, in the fullness of time, have the chutzpah to publish Clifford’s own sorry and sordid tale? Someone, I’ll bet.

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