Perhaps it was the moment that Hugh Grant brushed off on Jon Gaunt’s attempt to bring up Divine Brown on Question Time. Or Steve Coogan’s opening gambit to Paul McMullan on Newsnight last night: “You are a walking PR disaster for the tabloids… you come across as a risible individual.” Either way, this was the week the hacked and famous got their spectacular revenge.
Grant, an old hand at the story after his report for the New Statesman, and multiple media appearances since, kept his cool on Question Time, winning round the audience with the ease of an actor who had fumbled his way expertly through a series of heartwarming Richard Curtis films. By the end of the programme, the massed ranks of Twitter were calling for him to elected a real-life, Love Actually-style Prime Minister, complete with a Martine McCutcheon love interest.
Coogan, on the other hand – his head framed by a cloud of unruly hair – was overcome with fury, shouting down the increasingly absurd McMullan, who seemed to crumple into his chair. McMullan had the unfortunate nervous smirk of a man collapsing under questioning (note, at about 29 mins and 20 seconds in, the almost tragic little sigh he emits after Coogan’s latest battering), but even the smirk couldn’t hold out as Coogan repeatedly told him that he was “morally bankrupt”. (Coogan had problems of his own: his anger was such that he had to keep spelling out the swearwords he couldn’t say on air: BS, S-H-I-T, and so on).
This won’t be a popular assessment of what is already a legendary encounter, but I couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for McMullan by the end, as Emily Maitlis rightly observed that he seemed a “tortured soul” and Coogan mocked the fact that McMullan kept being “wheeled out because no one else could be bothered”. You could almost smell his desperation as he suggested that celebrities like Grant were jumping on the back of the story because they hadn’t made a film for a few years. Grant, I presume, was watching at home, laughing his head off.