The media column - That McCartney marriage in full

The McCartney-Mills marriage, like the fluoridation of water, is a subject on which I have never bee

Tolstoy had it wrong. Unhappy families do resemble one another: they all blame their unhappiness on the media. At least, those in the public eye do. In one sense this is rubbish. Very rich people, such as Paul McCartney and Heather Mills McCartney, can buy privacy more easily than most of us. And they are not obliged to inform the media when they go off to Canada to commune with seal pups. In another sense, the media are entirely responsible, just as they are responsible for everything in celebrities' lives, including their sense of who and what they are. The McCartney-Mills romance began at a Daily Mirror awards ceremony. At the time, Mills was due to marry a man called Chris Terrill. "We did a deal with Hello! magazine," he recalled in the Sunday Times. As one does.

The McCartney-Mills marriage, like the fluoridation of water, is a subject on which I have never been able to form an opinion. Indeed, I cannot imagine how I would begin to form one. Even when close friends and relations split up, I express little more than vague regret or a sage "never thought they were suited", feeling too ignorant (perhaps because I am too incurious) of what happens in other people's homes to speculate further. This may explain why I have never attended "crisis talks", which, if the press is to be believed, occur regularly in most families.

Fleet Street seemed well-informed to the point of omniscience about the McCartney-Mills marriage. They had a "very hot sex life", revealed Alison Boshoff in the Daily Mail. Unfortunately, Heather didn't do enough baking. (That's as in baking cakes; it's not some arcane sexual practice like dogging.) She spent too much time working out, whereas Linda, McCartney's first wife, was so busy mothering she "didn't even shave her legs".

In the Independent on Sunday, however, Germaine Greer knew that Heather had "given the marriage everything she had" and was now "running on empty". This, Greer explained,

was the trouble with being married to a "billionaire".

"The job is 24/7, no meal breaks, no time off for good behaviour . . . You have to anticipate the wishes of your spouse and fulfil them as if they were identical with your own." If Heather had embroidered her life story, it was "a somatic continuation and externalisation of the psychic battles of her childhood".

Not content with the unimpeachable authority of a professor of English (though not one who, so far as I know, has married many billionaires), the IoS also sent David Randall to "investigate" the reasons for the split. He discovered, in the best traditions of Sunday journalism, "a secret Heather, one very different from her public image". This "largely hidden" information came from the co-author of her forthcoming self-help book and the director of her favourite charity.

But I know that because Randall had the honesty to name his sources.

Other hacks relied on the ubiquitous "friends" who, unlike any friends I have, seem privy to the most intimate secrets of other people's marriages. They can also predict the future. Heather is to succeed the American TV anchorman Larry King, they told the Sunday Express. This will allow her to "supplement" her divorce settlement of £200m, a sum that clearly needs to be supplemented.

Even upmarket commentators such as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Mary Riddell and the Independent's resident saint, Paul Vallely, contributed their wisdom on the McCartney-Mills marriage. To ask how much of what was written is true is the wrong question. You might as well ask how much of the Gospels is true. As John Lennon once remarked (with only a smidgen of exaggeration), the Beatles became more famous than Jesus, and McCartney's life has something of the same mythic status.

If most female columnists have been harsh on Heather since the marriage started, it is because they reflect the instinctive reactions of millions of female readers - reactions that have been carefully cultivated over 40 years by McCartney and his publicists. He was always the nice Beatle and probably the only man on the planet who could persuade the British popular press that being made to give up marijuana - allegedly at Heather's insistence - is a cruel and unjust deprivation. For the baby-boomer generation, no woman was ever going to be good enough for him.

The truth is that celebrity marriages are media property from the start. Celebrities (at least as presented to the public) are not people but brands, nurtured as lovingly as a washing powder or a perfume.

Their marriage partners usually buy into the brand. Heather didn't: she had her own brand and, if it was far weaker than his, she still wanted to develop and market it. The marriage failed because the brands were incompatible. We are discussing not a fractured human relationship but a dysfunctional business partnership.

There. I've formed an opinion after all. I've no idea if it's true, but it's as good as anyone else's.

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