Richard Desmond's empire is a curious thing: on the one hand, you have newspapers that worry about immigration and have strayed into toxic territory by giving positive coverage to the English Defence League; on the other, you have magazines like OK!, so fluffy and inoffensive that turning the pages is like being pelted with Care Bears.
Perhaps it's with one eye on detoxifying his newspaper brands that Desmond has branched out with the Health Lottery, a fundraising enterprise that aims to give £50m a year to health charities. With 20.5p per £1 ticket going to those charities (compared with 28p per £1 for the National Lottery), the scheme will have to sell 243 million units a year to hit that goal – but as there are so many promotional outlets available to market the new game, don't write it off. We'll be seeing the Health Lottery on Channel 5, and reading about it in the Express, the Star and OK! Magazine – something to look forward to for us all, there.
Described as "an exciting new lottery" by the Daily Express and as "Northern & Shell's exciting new brand" by Channel 5's Kate Walsh at the press conference, the Health Lottery is a laudable venture. Even those of us who aren't Desmond's biggest fans should wish it well – not just because of the charity element, but because, perhaps, it marks a turning point for his newspapers.
With such a generous venture in the pipeline, Desmond moved to distance his publications from the English Defence League – and the Daily Star on Sunday at the weekend even took a potshot at the Little Englanders, showing a "chilling photo" of EDLers with guns (or replica guns) in their hands, highlighting racist chants and mentioning a "sick Nazi salute". Getting readers by confirming people's prejudices about immigration is one thing; seeming to give tacit support to a polarising organisation such as the EDL is quite another.
The closer Desmond brings his brands together – and the cross-promotion shows no sign of letting up right now – the less spiky the likes of the Star and Express will have to become. That might erode a little of the character of the newspapers, but it might chip away at their nastier side, too. Headlines like BBC PUTS MUSLIMS BEFORE YOU or THEY'VE STOLEN ALL OUR JOBS don't sit nicely alongside the cheerful, breezy tone of OK! magazine or the mass appeal of Channel 5's shows like Home and Away.
Pandering to Little Englanders every now and again might have done a good job in retaining a few hardcore readers for the Express and the Star, but that kind of tactic might become a hindrance when you're trying to make those readers hop over to OK!, or get OK readers to hop over to the Express, or Channel 5 viewers to buy your newspapers as well.
Here's wishing the Health Lottery well, then. It could raise a lot of money for charity and it could mark the end of the bad old days for the Express and the Star. It may seem unlikely, but I'll take a gamble . . .