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24 May 2011updated 12 Oct 2023 11:00am

How many people really knew it was Ryan Giggs?

Many people hadn’t guessed the identity of “the footballer” until the tabloids weighed in.

By Steven Baxter

Oh, Ryan Giggs. It was Ryan Giggs all along. Who knew? Well, it’s easy for a jumped-up media type like me, who wastes a large proportion of every day trawling through Twitter for shiny things, to think that everyone knew.

But I don’t think they did. I’m sure my office isn’t the only one in the country where people were only finding out yesterday the identity of “the footballer” who had taken out an injunction to stop a story about his private life from being published by the Sun. When the Daily Mail conducted a straw poll last week to demonstrate that the injunction was a joke, it discovered that, in fact, most people it asked hadn’t known that it was Giggs.

Of course, that was just a random sample; but still – it wasn’t the widespread open secret that we have been led to believe. Perhaps the injunction did protect the footballer’s identity after all, until Twitter users – maybe having their strings pulled by those with the most to gain, maybe not – piled in.

Sometimes that’s the problem with being a journalist writing about journalism: there’s a temptation to assume that everyone has the same interest in these matters as you do, because many of your friends and peers are also hacks and people who like this kind of thing.

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As to the wider population, we will have to wait and see whether everyone really was terribly interested, whether they will continue to be interested, and whether fatigue has already set in on this latest grubby kiss’n’tell.

Bust the flush

For now, it’s the only show in town, a carnival float of willy-waving from the triumphant tabs as their campaign to let us know the identity of the naughty celeb has succeeded – thanks to John Hemming MP and parliamentary privilege.

Giggs’s photo was splashed over the front pages of every single major newspaper this morning, with the refreshing exception of the Financial Times. Even the “quality” papers wanted a piece of the action – though they pretended to take a rather loftier perch than the dog-with-a-bone zeal of the red tops.

IT’S RYAN GIGGS roars the delighted Sun, taking a bow for its journalistic enterprise in attempting to bring this vital story to the attention of readers everywhere; while the Mirror seems just as happy to blast away with his identity, going with the cheekier NAMING PRIVATE RYAN.

It’s in the Mirror’s interests to make this as widely known as possible to bust the Sun’s flush: now we know the identity of the player, and many of the details of the alleged affair, what else is there to learn? Why buy the Sun if and when the injunction is finally lifted? This state of limbo could hobble its exclusive – though I’m not sure we should shed too many tears.

Other papers whose businesses thrive on gleefully revealing the details of celebrity shagging for the prurient pleasure of their readers are equally delighted that the “legal farce” has come to an end.

The Daily Star takes a particularly cruel decision to print a photo of Giggs with his children in his arms, as if they were somehow relevant to this matter. Is this downright nastiness intended to encourage others not to fight for their privacy? Is it just plain mean? Or is it to cling on to that tiny fibre of public-interest justification for this story – look at him, pretending to be a family man! – instead of the reality, that we just want to read about the sexual dalliances of the rich and famous?

Do it to death

Meanwhile, the self-proclaimed World’s Greatest Newspaper, the Daily Express, surprisingly decides to lead on something else.

Sure, there’s a massive photo of Giggs and his wife, as you’d expect, but it goes instead with panic-porn about the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud – banking on worried readers preferring to be scared by the apocalyptic fug of doom than show an interest in media matters.

It’s interesting, when you consider that Express readers might be the least likely to be pottering around on Twitter in their spare time, and would therefore be least likely to have heard of this business already. But then maybe the Express has decided it’s just a story that has been done to death – and it could be right, you know.

Maybe this story will run and run, because we really do care so much about the right to write about footballers’ sex lives that we want the right to privacy ripped apart. Maybe everyone outside of newsrooms really is as interested in all of this as we are.

In which case, this is just the first salvo in a long, long battle. But I can’t help wondering if the tale isn’t as good as we’re being told it is – not now the genie is out of the bottle.

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