Rachel Johnson’s diary: Paul Dacre’s “nasty paper” and dancing with the Jezziah

Corbyn’s biggest cheer was when he promised music lessons for primary kids. The Second Coming it wasn’t.

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Text from Sarah Sands, editor of the Today prog. “Can we have you on in the morning celebrating Geordie and his position on Brexit?” I was nose-deep in Twitter at my sister’s book launch in Covent Garden. Minutes earlier, the thunderclap had broken over Fleet Street that my boss at the Mail on Sunday, Geordie Greig, was to be Paul Dacre’s successor at the daily. The two titles are as divided as the nation by the convulsive issue of the day, but naughty Sarah’s hook was already in deep: she knew I would happily prattle about both Geordie and Brexit till the cows came home. As I was leaving, one of the two deputy eds at my paper called. “Now don’t go doing anything like Newsnight will you,” said Tobyn Andreae. Ha ha ha, I went, as if nothing could be further from my mind. Anyway, what could possibly go wrong?

Visions of the Nasty Paper

In the Today studio cockpit for 8.47am. Presenter Mishal Husain didn’t seem that interested in what I had to say about Geordie but deftly steered me in another direction. Would the new broom detoxify the daily, she wanted to know, stop it being the Nasty Paper, had the ravens really left the tower, etc? (I paraphrase, but that was what Will Self would call the “gravamen” of it.) I didn’t just fall into her elephant trap. I took a running jump, and said I presumed the Mail would become more “inclusive” and less “inflammatory” under its first new editor for a quarter-century. I know, I know!

Giving banality a bad name

A few days later I wake to find an email from Spectator editor Fraser Nelson. It is catchlined “Dacre’s revenge”. He attaches a PDF. Oooh – it’s Paul Dacre’s diary. Good get, I think, as I scan it. Dacre says my “newspaper column” (as if the Mail on Sunday were nothing to do with him, even though he is the editor-in-chief of both titles) “gives banality a bad name”. I am persuaded by many fellow saboteurs and traitors that this personal namecheck in PD’s touching Festschrift to himself is the rarest accolade and I should have it chiselled on my tombstone. Later I discover that my editor-in-chief thought I’d been put up to say what I did. Well. I may give banality a bad name but Mr Dacre really doesn’t know me at all. Hope I took my beating like a man, and I am wearing his words as a badge of honour as my new Twitter bio.

Live from JezFest

Tobyn Andreae (possibly as punishment) sent me out to cover Labour Live on Saturday. It was the furthest north I have set foot in the capital. The question was, could Jeremy Corbyn recreate his floor-filling appearance at Glasto in N22? I wandered around looking at the merch, bought a Power for the Many phone charger, thought about buying a wife-beater vest with the slogan Tories Out, queued for a burrito, listened to Len McCluskey in the Solidarity Tent, listened to a spot of Boris-bashing from Owen Jones, and then the crowds on the field of cloth of red parted. The Jezziah had manifested among us. A few minutes later, to the thumping chords of “Seven Nation Army”, John McDonnell was up on stage, introducing the headline act. I find myself chanting “Oooooh Jeremy Corbyn” along with the disciples. JC then launched into his stump speech. The biggest cheer was when he promised music lessons for primary school kids. It was a nice day out, if you like that sort of thing when you could be at home watching the World Cup. But the Second Coming it wasn’t.

Any suggestions welcome

I collect oxymorons, such as “all-day breakfast”, “fun run”, “family holiday”, “American cheese”. Have added “Brexit dividend” to the distinguished list. Any more goodies out there?

Alienating my audience

David Dimbleby – another titan – is to leave his berth at Question Time. End of an era in medialand. I’ve done the show a few times and I rate it as the second-hardest on TV, the first being Have I Got News For You, which makes me break out in a cold sweat just thinking about it (Paul Merton saying to me, “If a joke doesn’t work the first time, Rachel, a tip: don’t repeat it”). Both are recorded in front of an audience. Even if the room is agnostic at the beginning, by the end I’ve usually managed to turn most against me. If I was rejigging things, I might restore the panel to four like in Any Questions, which is always a joy to “panel” (verb) for under the superb Dimbleby Minor, and I’d ban Nigel Farage and Isabel Oakeshott and anyone from the Taxpayers’ Alliance from appearing more than once a year.

Wifely duties

On Sunday I rushed around getting all three adult children together for a Father’s Day brunch, which I felt ticked that box. Later I went off to play tennis. One of my opponents, the Lord Faulks, rolled up on court 15 minutes late, saying that as he was leaving the house our friend Bomber had come to drop off everyone’s golf clubs.

Explainer: my husband Ivo and Edward Faulks, among others, had spent a pleasurable few days at Bomber’s house on their annual boys’ jolly on the links in Cornwall, while I was being publicly shamed, going to JezFest, being teased by my editor at Sky that if it all went tits-up at Associated, “don’t worry, you can always start a costume jewellery business in Somerset”, and so on. But back to the offending golf clubs. “Would you mind picking them up on your way home tonight,” Edward Faulks suggested, as if this were standard wifely operating procedure, “I don’t want them lying around for a year like they did last time.” I have to confess this was the final straw after a somewhat difficult week, and I snapped. “Yes I do mind, Eddy,” I said, and refused. My guess is the golf clubs will still be cluttering up Eddy’s hallway this time next year, but that’s really not my problem.

Rachel Johnson is a columnist for the Mail on Sunday

This article appears in the 22 June 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Conservatives in crisis

Free trial CSS