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The bugger, bugged

After a chance meeting with a former News of the World executive who told him his phone had been hacked, Hugh Grant couldn’t resist going back to him – with a hidden tape recorder – to find out if there was more to the story. . .

When I broke down in my midlife crisis car in remotest Kent just before Christmas, a battered white van pulled up on the far carriageway. To help, I thought. But when the driver got out he started taking pictures with a long-lens camera. He came closer to get better shots and I swore at him. Then he offered me a lift the last few miles to my destination. I suspected his motives and swore at him some more. (I'm not entirely sympathetic towards paparazzi.) Then I realised I couldn't get a taxi and was late. So I had to accept the lift.

He turned out to be an ex-News of the World investigative journalist and paparazzo, now running a pub in Dover. He still kept his camera in the car's glove box for just this kind of happy accident.

More than that, he was Paul McMullan, one of two ex-NoW hacks who had blown the whistle (in the Guardian and on Channel 4's Dispatches) on the full extent of phone-hacking at the paper, particularly under its former editor Andy Coulson. This was interesting, as I had been a victim - a fact he confirmed as we drove along. He also had an unusual defence of the practice: that phone-hacking was a price you had to pay for living in a free society. I asked how that worked exactly, but we ran out of time, and next thing we had arrived and he was asking me if I would pose for a photo with him, "not for publication, just for the wall of the pub".

I agreed and the picture duly appeared in the Mail on Sunday that weekend with his creative version of the encounter. He had asked me to drop into his pub some time. So when, some months later, Jemima asked me to write a piece for this paper, it occurred to me it might be interesting to take him up on his invitation.

I wanted to hear more about phone-hacking and the whole business of tabloid journalism. It occurred to me just to interview him straight, as he has, after all, been a whistleblower. But then I thought I might possibly get more, and it might be more fun, if I secretly taped him, The bugger bugged, as it were. Here are some excerpts from our conversation.

Me So, how's the whistleblowing going?
Him I'm trying to get a book published. I sent it off to a publisher who immediately accepted it and then it got legal and they said, "This is never going to get published."
Me Why? Because it accuses too many people of crime?
Him Yes, as I said to the parliamentary commission, Coulson knew all about it and regularly ordered it . . . He [Coulson] rose quickly to the top; he wanted to cover his tracks all the time. So he wouldn't just write a story about a celeb who'd done something. He'd want to make sure they could never sue, so he wanted us to hear the celeb like you on tape saying, "Hello, darling, we had lovely sex last night." So that's on tape - OK, we've got that and so we can publish . . . Historically, the way it went was, in the early days of mobiles, we all had analogue mobiles and that was an absolute joy. You know, you just . . . sat outside Buckingham Palace with a £59 scanner you bought at Argos and get Prince Charles and everything he said.
Me Is that how the Squidgy tapes [of Diana's phone conversations] came out? Which was put down to radio hams, but was in fact . . .
Him Paps in the back of a van, yes . . . I mean, politicians were dropping like flies in the Nineties because it was so easy to get stuff on them. And, obviously, less easy to justify is celebrities. But yes.
Me And . . . it wasn't just the News of the World. It was , you know - the Mail?
Him Oh absolutely, yeah. When I went freelance in 2004 the biggest payers - you'd have thought it would be the NoW, but actually it was the Daily Mail. If I take a good picture, the first person I go to is - such as in your case - the Mail on Sunday. Did you see that story? The picture of you, breaking down . . . I ought to thank you for that. I got £3,000. Whooo!
Me But would they [the Mail] buy a phone-hacked story?
Him For about four or five years they've absolutely been cleaner than clean. And before that they weren't. They were as dirty as anyone . . . They had the most money.
Me So everyone knew? I mean, would Rebekah Wade have known all this stuff was going on?
Him Good question. You're not taping, are you?
Me [slightly shrill voice] No.
Him Well, yeah. Clearly she . . . took over the job of [a journalist] who had a scanner who was trying to sell it to members of his own department. But it wasn't a big crime. [NB: Rebekah Brooks has always denied any knowledge of phone-hacking. The current police investigation is into events that took place after her editorship of the News of the World.]
It started off as fun - you know, it wasn't against the law, so why wouldn't you? And it was only because the MPs who were fiddling their expenses and being generally corrupt kept getting caught so much they changed the law in 2001 to make it illegal to buy and sell a digital scanner. So all we were left with was - you know - finding a blag to get your mobile [records] out of someone at Vodafone. Or, when someone's got it, other people swap things for it.
Me So they all knew? Wade probably knew all about it all?
Him [...] Cameron must have known - that's the bigger scandal. He had to jump into bed with Murdoch as everyone had, starting with Thatcher in the Seventies . . . Tony Blair . . . [tape is hard to hear here] Maggie openly courted Murdoch, saying, you know, "Please support me." So when Cameron, when it came his turn to go to Murdoch via Rebekah Wade . . . Cameron went horse riding regularly with Rebekah. I know, because as well as doorstepping celebrities, I've also doorstepped my ex-boss by hiding in the bushes, waiting for her to come past with Cameron on a horse . . . before the election to show that - you know - Murdoch was backing Cameron.
Me What happened to that story?
Him The Guardian paid for me to do it and I stepped in it and missed them, basically. They'd gone past - not as good as having a picture.
Me Do you think Murdoch knew about phone-hacking?
Him Errr, possibly not. He's a funny bloke given that he owns the Sun and the Screws . . . quite puritanical. Sorry to talk about Divine Brown, but when that came out . . . Murdoch was furious: "What are you putting that on our front page for? You're bringing down the tone of our papers." [Indicating himself] That's what we do over here.
Me Well, it's also because it was his film I was about to come out in.
Him Oh. I see.
Me Yeah. It was a Fox film.
[A pause here while we chat to other customers, and then - ]
Him So anyway, let me finish my story.
Me Murdoch, yes . . .
Him So I was sent to do a feature on Moulin Rouge! at Cannes, which was a great send anyway. Basically my brief was to see who Nicole Kidman was shagging - what she was doing, poking through her bins and get some stuff on her. So Murdoch's paying her five million quid to big up the French and at the same time paying me £5.50 to fuck her up . . . So all hail the master. We're just pawns in his game. How perverse is that?
Me Wow. You reckon he never knew about it?
Him [pause] I don't even think he really worried himself too much about it.
Me What's his son called?
Him James. They're all mates together. They all go horse riding. You've got Jeremy Clarkson lives here [in Oxfordshire]. Cameron lives here, and Rebekah Wade is married to Brooks's son [the former racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks]. Cameron gets dressed up as the Stig to go to Clarkson's 50th birthday party [NB: it was actually to record a video message for the party]. Is that demeaning for a prime minister? It should be the other way round, shouldn't it? So basically, Cameron is very much in debt to Rebekah Wade for helping him not quite win the election . . . So that was my submission to parliament - that Cameron's either a liar or an idiot.
Me But don't you think that all these prime ministers deliberately try to get the police to drag their feet about investigating the whole [phone-hacking] thing because they don't want to upset Murdoch?
Him Yeah. There's that . . . You also work a lot with policemen as well . . . One of the early stories was [and here he names a much-loved TV actress in her sixties] used to be a street walker - whether or not she was, but that's the tip.
Me and Chum MLTVA?!
Me I can't believe it. Oh no!
Chum Really??
Him Yeah. Well, not now . . .
Chum Oh, it'd be so much better if it was now.
Him So I asked a copper to get his hands on the phone files, but because it's only a caution it's not there any more. So that's the tip . . . it's a policeman ringing up a tabloid reporter and asking him for ten grand because this girl had been cautioned right at the start of his career. And then I ask another policemen to go and check the records . . . So that's happening regularly. So the police don't particularly want to investigate.
Me But do you think they're going to have to now?
Him I mean - 20 per cent of the Met has taken backhanders from tabloid hacks. So why would they want to open up that can of worms? . . . And what's wrong with that, anyway? It doesn't hurt anyone particularly. I mean, it could hurt someone's career - but isn't that the dance with the devil you have to play?
Me Well, I suppose the fact that they're dragging their feet while investigating a mass of phone-hacking - which is a crime - some people would think is a bit depressing about the police.
Him But then - should it be a crime? I mean, scanning never used to be a crime. Why should it be? You're transmitting your thoughts and your voice over the airwaves. How can you not expect someone to just stick up an aerial and listen in?
Me So if someone was on a landline and you had a way of tapping in . . .
Him Much harder to do.
Me But if you could, would you think that was illegal? Do you think that should be illegal?
Him I'd have to say quite possibly, yeah. I'd say that should be illegal.
Me But a mobile phone - a digital phone . . . you'd say it'd be all right to tap that?
Him I'm not sure about that. So we went from a point where anyone could listen in to anything. Like you, me, journalists could listen in to corrupt politicians, and this is why we have a reasonably fair society and a not particularly corrupt or criminal prime minister, whereas other countries have Gaddafi. Do you think it's right the only person with a decent digital scanner these days is the government? Whereas 20 years ago we all had a go? Are you comfortable that the only people who can listen in to you now are - is it MI5 or MI6?
Me I'd rather no one listened in, to be honest. And I might not be alone there. You probably wouldn't want people listening to your conversations.
Him I'm not interesting enough for anyone to want to listen in.
Me Ah . . . I think that was one of the questions asked last week at one of the parliamentary committees. They asked Yates [John Yates, acting deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police] if it was true that he thought that the NoW had been hacking the phones of friends and family of those girls who were murdered . . . the Soham murder and the Milly girl [Milly Dowler].
Him Yeah. Yeah. It's more than likely. Yeah . . . It was quite routine. Yeah - friends and family is something that's not as easy to justify as the other things.
Me But celebrities you would justify because they're rich?
Him Yeah. I mean, if you don't like it, you've just got to get off the stage. It'll do wonders.
Me So I should have given up acting?
Him If you live off your image, you can't really complain about someone . . .
Me I live off my acting. Which is different to living off your image.
Him Yeah, but you're still presenting yourself to the public. And if the public didn't know you -
Me They don't give a shit. I got arrested with a hooker and they still came to my films. They don't give a fuck about your public image. They just care about whether you're in an entertaining film or not.
Him That's true . . . I have terrible difficulty with him [points to pap shot of Johnny Depp]. He's really difficult. You know, I was in Venice and he was a nightmare to do because he walks around looking like Michael Jackson. And the punchline was . . . after leading everyone a merry dance the film was shot on an open balcony - I mean, it was like - he was standing there in public.
Me And you don't see the difference between the two situations?
Chum He was actually working at this time? As opposed to having his own private time?
Him You can't hide all the time.
Me So you're saying, if you're Johnny Depp or me, you don't deserve to have a private life?
Him You make so much more money. You know, most people in Dover take home about £200 and struggle.
Me So how much do you think the families of the Milly and Soham girls make?
Him OK, so there are examples that are poor and you can't justify - and that's clearly one of them.
Me I tell you the thing I still don't get - if you think it was all right to do all that stuff, why blow the whistle on it?
Him Errm . . . Right. That's interesting. I actually blew the whistle when a friend of mine at the Guardian kept hassling me for an interview. I said, "Well if you put the name of the Castle [his pub] on the front page of the Guardian, I'll do anything you like." So that's how it started.
Me So, have you been leant on by the NoW, News International, since you blew the whistle?
Him No, they've kept their distance. I mean, there's people who have much better records - my records are non-existent. There are people who actually have tapes and transcripts they did for Andy Coulson.
Me And where are these tapes and transcripts? Do you think they've been destroyed?
Him No, I'm sure they're saving them till they retire.
Me So did you personally ever listen to my voice messages?
Him No, I didn't personally ever listen to your voice messages. I did quite a lot of stories on you, though. You were a very good earner at times.

Those are the highlights. As I drove home past the white cliffs, I thought it was interesting - apart from the fact that Paul hates people like me, and I hate people like him, we got on quite well. And, absurdly, I felt a bit guilty for recording him.

And he does have a very nice pub. The Castle Inn, Dover, for the record. There are rooms available, too. He asked me if I'd like to sample the honeymoon suite some time: "I can guarantee your privacy."

-- Listen to the audio now --

This article first appeared in the 11 April 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Jemima Khan guest edit

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The New Statesman Quiz of the Year, 2016

Grab your pen and paper for this year's New Statesman quiz.

Brexit

1 Which foreign politician hailed Leave’s win in the EU referendum as a “Victory for freedom!”?

a Geert Wilders

b Norbert Hofer

c Donald Trump

d Marine Le Pen

 

2 Which London borough had the highest percentage of Remain voters in the EU referendum, at 78.6 per cent?

a Lambeth

b Ealing

c Merton

d Hammersmith and Fulham

 

3 Which of these newspapers did not support Leave?

Sunday Express

Sunday Times

Mail on Sunday

Sunday Telegraph

 

4 Boris Johnson caused controversy by suggesting to an Italian economics minister that Italy would allow the UK access to the single market in order to safeguard exports of what?

a Parma ham

b Prosecco

c Pasta

d Parmesan

5 In a YouGov poll asking voters how they thought fictional characters might vote in the EU referendum, who was viewed as most likely to vote Leave?

a Jim Royle

b Basil Fawlty

c Alan Partridge

d Mary Poppins

 

US politics

 

6 Which of these words did Donald Trump use most frequently during the three
presidential debates?

a Unbelievable

b Wonderful

c Tremendous

d Amazing

 

7 During his campaign, Trump suggested the father of his rival Ted Cruz could have been linked to whose assassination?

a John F Kennedy

b Robert F Kennedy

c Martin Luther King

d Anwar Sadat

 

8 What was Nigel Farage’s description of Trump during the second debate, in which he had to defend himself against assault charges and seemed to invade Hillary Clinton’s space?

a “A big silverback gorilla”

b “A mighty mountain
of a man”

c “A great white shark
sniffing blood”

d “A defiant, strong lion”

 

9 At a New York fundraiser in September, Hillary Clinton was assailed for saying that “half” of Donald Trump’s supporters could be described as “a basket of . . .” what?

a Unmentionables

b Deplorables

c Awfulness

d Idiocy

 

10 Which of these states did not swing from the Democrats to the Republicans in the 2016 US presidential election?

a Iowa

b Pennsylvania

c Ohio

d Virginia

 

UK politics

 

11 In August, which former cabinet minster was photographed firing off a machine-gun, Rambo-style, while on holiday in Vietnam?

a George Osborne

b Michael Gove

c Nicky Morgan

d Ken Clarke

 

12 Who claimed in his autobiography, Speaking Out, that the idea Jeremy Corbyn will take Labour back to power is a “leftist utopian fantasy”?

a David Miliband

b Ed Balls

c Alastair Campbell

d Neil Kinnock

 

13 In the first round of voting in the Conservative leadership contest, who received the support of 34 MPs?

a Liam Fox

b Michael Gove

c Andrea Leadsom

d Stephen Crabb

 

14 Who won in the Politician category at GQ magazine’s Men of the Year awards?

a Boris Johnson

b Nigel Farage

c Sadiq Khan

d Jacob Rees-Mogg

 

15 Labour now boasts the largest number of members of any political party in western Europe. What was the party membership figure by September?

a 388,400

b 551,000

c 776,300

d 917,000

 

Around Britain

 

16 What did Sergeant Colin Norden, a Cambridgeshire police officer, call “the biggest organised crime group” in the country because of a racket in picking wild berries and selling them on?

a Scouts

b Ramblers’ Association

c Women’s Institute

d Camra

 

17 Despite public demand for the name Boaty McBoatface, after whom was the UK’s new polar research ship eventually named?

Michael Palin

David Attenborough

Ranulph Fiennes

Bear Grylls

 

18 London’s new railway Crossrail will be given what name when it opens in December 2018?

a The Regal Line

b The Elizabeth Line

c The Queen Line

d The Windsor Line

 

19 A new Royal Bank of Scotland £10 note will be the first to carry a picture of a woman who is not a member of the royal family. Who?

a Mary Somerville

b Muriel Spark

c Flora MacDonald

d Winnie Ewing

 

20 Which of these products briefly became scarce in Tesco supermarkets this year after a price disagreement with the supplier, Unilever?

a Pot Noodles

b Colman’s Mustard

c Bisto

d Marmite

 

21 According to the Office for National Statistics’ happiness index, which religion has the highest happiness rating?

a Hinduism

b Buddhism

c Christianity

d Judaism

 

22 A study found that which biscuit can endure the most number of dunks into a cup of tea before breaking apart?

a Bourbon

b Custard cream

c Digestive

d Rich Tea

World

 

23 The Cuban leader Fidel Castro died in November at the age of 90. Ten US presidents held office during his time in power, but who was Fidel’s first US counterpart?

a Harry S Truman

b Dwight D Eisenhower

c John F Kennedy

d Lyndon B Johnson

 

24 Archaeologists used laser technology to discover a number of hitherto lost medieval cities in the jungles of which country?

a Guatemala

b Thailand

c Cambodia

d Brazil

 

25 Maria Grazia Chiuri became the first female creative director of which fashion house?

a Valentino

b Givenchy

c Louis Vuitton

d Christian Dior

 

26 Which European country voted to reject a proposal to introduce a guaranteed basic income for all its citizens?

a Finland

b Norway

c Switzerland

d Austria

 

27 In which US city were 11 police officers shot, five of them fatally, by at least two snipers at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in July?

a New Orleans

b Atlanta

c Dallas

d St Louis

 

28 Adama Barrow won Gambia’s presidential election. As a student in London, he once worked as a security guard for which high-street retailer?

a Marks & Spencer

b Argos

c John Lewis

d Boots

 

29 Which politician was heavily criticised for having a personal barber who earns €10,000 a month?

a Matteo Renzi

b Joachim Gauck

c Mariano Rajoy

d François Hollande

 

Sport


30 The 23 March is a special day for sport, as three of Britain’s four most successful Olympians, in terms of gold medals won, share a birthday on that date. Which of the four men won his medals despite being born on 28 April?

a Chris Hoy

b Steve Redgrave

c Bradley Wiggins

d Jason Kenny

 

31 In which sport did Great Britain win most of its gold medals from the Rio Olympics?

a Rowing

b Cycling

c Swimming

d Sailing

 

32 Great Britain took second place in the Rio Paralympics table with 147 medals (including 64 gold) behind which country?

a China

b Russia

c United States

d Germany

 

33 Which Scottish golf course was removed from the list of possible venues for the Open Championship after it voted to retain its “men only” membership policy?

a Turnberry

b Muirfield

c Carnoustie

d Royal Troon

 

34 Who appeared on the BBC’s Match of the Day wearing only his underpants, after he promised to do so if Leicester City won the Premier League?

a Alan Shearer

b Mark Lawrenson

c Ian Wright

d Gary Lineker

 

35 Which British tennis player won the mixed doubles title at Wimbledon?

a Laura Robson

b Naomi Broady

c Johanna Konta

d Heather Watson

 

36 Borussia Mönchengladbach changed their name to “A German Team” on Twitter in response to fans of which UK side being unable to spell the name?

a Liverpool

b Celtic

c Aberdeen

d Manchester City

 

Arts and books

37 Love by All Sorts of Means was Brendan King’s biography of which writer, whom he worked for as secretary and assistant for 23 years?

a Beryl Bainbridge

b Penelope Lively

c Doris Lessing

d Barbara Pym

 

38 Which former Blue Peter presenter published the debut novel The Butcher’s Hook?

a Valerie Singleton

b Mark Curry

c Konnie Huq

d Janet Ellis

 

39 Which comedian and television presenter’s painting of David Beckham’s tattoos was part of the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition?

a Nick Hancock

b Justin Lee Collins

c Harry Hill

d Leigh Francis

 

40 Which artist acquired exclusive rights to “Vantablack”, said to be the “blackest black” pigment of paint?

a Grayson Perry

b Chris Ofili

c Jeremy Deller

d Anish Kapoor

 

41 Which musical won 11 Tony Awards from 16 nominations, falling one short of the all-time record held by The Producers?

School of Rock

Hamilton

Waitress

Fun Home

 

42 Who was the only Briton to make the Forbes Top Ten list of the world’s highest-paid comedians?

a Peter Kay

b Frankie Boyle

c Kevin Bridges

d John Bishop

 

Science and media

 

43 In the first 15 years of Wikipedia, which person’s entry was edited the most?

a Justin Bieber

b Barack Obama

c Adolf Hitler

d George W Bush

 

44 A study found the average smartphone user touches their device how many times a day?

a 137

b 589

c 1,457

d 2,617

 

45 The wildlife TV presenter Chris Packham controversially suggested that children should be encouraged to eat which local wildlife?

a Snails

b Earthworms

c Tadpoles

d Grasshoppers

 

46 Researchers found that the milk of which Australian marsupial is capable of killing antibiotic-resistant human pathogens?

a Tasmanian devil

b Red kangaroo

c Quokka

d Tiger quoll

 

47 Scientists suggested which sixth “basic taste” to describe the flavour of bread and potatoes?

a Starchiness

b Solid

c Heavy

d Glutinous

 

Media

 

48 Which national newspaper closed after only nine weeks of operation?

New Day

New European

First News

24

 

49 Which newspaper led the investigation that brought Sam Allardyce’s time as England manager to an end after 67 days?

Times

Daily Telegraph

Daily Express

Observer

 

50 Which magazine published Sean Penn’s interview with Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán that Mexican officials claim led them to the drug kingpin’s hiding place?

Esquire

New Yorker

Rolling Stone

Vice

 

Film, TV, music

 

51 Spike Lee’s latest film, Chi-Raq, is a modern-day adaptation of which play by Aristophanes?

The Clouds

Lysistrata

The Frogs

The Birds

 

52 Which film won the
Golden Globe award for
Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, despite being neither a musical nor a comedy?

Carol

The Big Short

Steve Jobs

The Martian

 

53 Who played the title role in Fleabag, the TV adaptation of her 2013 Edinburgh one-woman play of the same name?

a Joanna Vanderham

b Zawe Ashton

c Phoebe Waller-Bridge

d Immy Waterhouse

 

54 Who became the highest-grossing female film star of all time?

a Jennifer Lawrence

b Scarlett Johansson

c Zoë Saldana

d Nicole Kidman

 

55 Which German film by the director Sebastian Schipper was shot in a single, continuous take?

Victoria

Mary

Anna

Eva

 

56 The season finale of Westworld revealed the existence of which other theme park?

a Space World

b Medieval World

c Gangster World

d Samurai World

 

57 The video for Kanye West’s song “Famous” did not feature which of these people in the form of a naked sleeping waxwork?

a Barack Obama

b Anna Wintour

c Donald Trump

d Bill Cosby

 

58 Which musician released the online animal rights game This Beautiful Creature Must Die in collaboration with Peta?

a Paul McCartney

b Morrissey

c Moby

d Dave Navarro

 

59 The Eurovision Song Contest-winning song “1944” commemorated which event?

a D-Day landings

b Deportation of the
Crimean Tatars

c Battle of Monte Cassino

d Liberation of Leningrad

Click here for the answers.

This article first appeared in the 15 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas and New Year special 2016