Want to stalk Rio Ferdinand? Look no further than the newspapers

The intrusion into celebrities’ privacy is endemic – and it undermines the case for serious investig

Rio Ferdinand's ordeal at the hands of a stalker has made some of our favourite tabloids giddy with excitement. There's a celebrity tale, involving an England football star no less; there's the drama of a courtroom appearance; and there's the element of harassment, too, a man's private life having been invaded.

About that last point, though: one of the photos that kept cropping up in the coverage was an aerial photograph of Ferdinand's house. One caption of the house described Ferdinand's stalker as an "unwanted visitor" there, but it made me wonder: would a light plane buzzing overhead snapping pictures of your back garden be something you might welcome with a cheery wave? I am not so sure.

But I think it says something about the way we view celebrities that barely a second thought is given to using such a photo when discussing a matter of stalking. If we're talking about a man having an unwanted visitor at his house, then let's have a picture of the house, so that everyone can see what it looks like.

If you were a potential stalker of Rio Ferdinand, you wouldn't have to turn up at his house to see him going about his daily business, well away from the training ground. If you wanted to know all about his private life, you might want to see photos of him and his wife, and you'd probably want to know what kind of car he drives, and see him going out for a drink, or eating dinner. You might want to see pictures of him while he's on holiday as well, with that delightful "long lens" look about them. Here's Rio, going for a stroll. Rio eating dinner. Rio wearing shorts. Rio going for a swim. In case you didn't know, now you do.

But then that's the acceptable face of the private life made public. This is the way in which walking down the road, going on holiday, swimming on a beach or driving in a car becomes an event that must be shared, devoured, enjoyed by everyone, because there was someone there with a massive lens to make sure they'd find it. That's not stalking, that's celebrity culture.

The same flimsy fig leaf gets put into place every time we talk about intrusion of privacy: these are people who choose to be in the public eye, and therefore they're fair game. We hear the wails and foot-stamping as papers are told they can't roll around in the stinky ooze from a celebrity's marriage gone wrong or a footballer playing away because of an injunction: but we're entitled to do this! What about our rights? Don't you want to know who did what with whom and when? Of course you do! And we do. We buy it in sackloads.

Some of us might want to live in a world where we're forbidden to have access to photographs of Nigella Lawson on a beach in Australia, with bitchy text underneath saying she's wearing too many clothes for us to be able to point and giggle at her wobblier bits, which is perfectly understandable. It's cheap, trashy crap that adds nothing to anyone's understanding of anything, ever. But I suppose it's a question of who decides what is public and what isn't.

Perhaps there is a danger that if we made sure that everything behind closed doors stayed private, some rascals might get away with wrongdoing, the exposure of which would be in the public interest as opposed to just making a few of us snort and laugh at celebrities' bums. It's just that the case for real investigative journalism would be so much clearer without a fog of intrusive garbage clouding our perceptions of what newspapers are there to do, and what they want to sell us.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
Steve Garry
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The footie is back. Three weeks in and what have we learned so far?

Barcleys, boots and big names... the Prem is back.

Another season, another reason for making whoopee cushions and giving them to Spurs fans to cheer them up during the long winter afternoons ahead. What have we learned so far?

Big names are vital. Just ask the manager of the Man United shop. The arrival of Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger has done wonders for the sale of repro tops and they’ve run out of letters. Benedict Cumberbatch, please join Carlisle United. They’re desperate for some extra income.

Beards are still in. The whole Prem is bristling with them, the skinniest, weediest player convinced he’s Andrea Pirlo. Even my young friend and neighbour Ed Miliband has grown a beard, according to his holiday snaps. Sign him.

Boots Not always had my best specs on, but here and abroad I detect a new form of bootee creeping in – slightly higher on the ankle, not heavy-plated as in the old days but very light, probably made from the bums of newborn babies.

Barclays Still driving me mad. Now it’s screaming from the perimeter boards that it’s “Championing the true Spirit of the Game”. What the hell does that mean? Thank God this is its last season as proud sponsor of the Prem.

Pitches Some groundsmen have clearly been on the weeds. How else can you explain the Stoke pitch suddenly having concentric circles, while Southampton and Portsmouth have acquired tartan stripes? Go easy on the mowers, chaps. Footballers find it hard enough to pass in straight lines.

Strips Have you seen the Everton third kit top? Like a cheap market-stall T-shirt, but the colour, my dears, the colour is gorgeous – it’s Thames green. Yes, the very same we painted our front door back in the Seventies. The whole street copied, then le toot middle classes everywhere.

Scott Spedding Which international team do you think he plays for? I switched on the telly to find it was rugby, heard his name and thought, goodo, must be Scotland, come on, Scotland. Turned out to be the England-France game. Hmm, must be a member of that famous Cumbrian family, the Speddings from Mirehouse, where Tennyson imagined King Arthur’s Excalibur coming out the lake. Blow me, Scott Spedding turns out to be a Frenchman. Though he only acquired French citizenship last year, having been born and bred in South Africa. What’s in a name, eh?

Footballers are just so last season. Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane can’t score. The really good ones won’t come here – all we get is the crocks, the elderly, the bench-warmers, yet still we look to them to be our saviour. Oh my God, let’s hope we sign Falcao, he’s a genius, will make all the difference, so prayed all the Man United fans. Hold on: Chelsea fans. I’ve forgotten now where he went. They seek him here, they seek him there, is he alive or on the stairs, who feckin’ cares?

John Stones of Everton – brilliant season so far, now he is a genius, the solution to all of Chelsea’s problems, the heir to John Terry, captain of England for decades. Once he gets out of short trousers and learns to tie his own laces . . .

Managers are the real interest. So refreshing to have three young British managers in the Prem – Alex Neil at Norwich (34), Eddie Howe at Bournemouth (37) and that old hand at Swansea, Garry Monk, (36). Young Master Howe looks like a ball boy. Or a tea boy.

Mourinho is, of course, the main attraction. He has given us the best start to any of his seasons on this planet. Can you ever take your eyes off him? That handsome hooded look, that sarcastic sneer, the imperious hand in the air – and in his hair – all those languages, he’s so clearly brilliant, and yet, like many clever people, often lacking in common sense. How could he come down so heavily on Eva Carneiro, his Chelsea doctor? Just because you’re losing? Yes, José has been the best fun so far – plus Chelsea’s poor start. God, please don’t let him fall out with Abramovich. José, we need you.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism