The fall of Max Clifford as he finally steps into the spotlight
As the PR guru awaits sentencing, we look back on his dark arts
Published 01/05/2014 | 02:30
The dark art of media manipulation played no small part in establishing Max Clifford as Britain's most instantly recognisable and powerful publicist.
Having lived by the sword, few would argue that there's a certain poetic justice that the image of the fallen PR guru is now suffering death by a thousand cuts at the hands of the very media he skillfully played over a career spanning more than four decades.
In the wake of his conviction on eight counts of indecent assault, he is now being subjected to the sort of blanket coverage that he once so expertly engineered through his contacts with tabloid editors. And if he proudly boasted that he kept more stories out of the newspapers than he put in, he clearly was unable to prevent this one from receiving more attention than the most sordid revelations whose publicity he ensured through his tenure as Britain's most famous publicist.
However, amid the current furore, it's worth remembering that in his heyday, the media were willing partners in the behind-the-scenes negotiations that were such an essential part of Clifford's modus operandi when selling kiss-and-tell exposés on behalf of his clients.
The truth is that it wasn't the media that brought Clifford down, it was Operation Yewtree – the special investigation triggered by allegations of widespread sexual abuse against the late Jimmy Savile that went on to put the spotlight on other celebrities. In particular, Clifford was convicted on the evidence of his victims who had the courage to come forward and tell their stories to the court.
Still, now that he's down, Clifford will be painfully aware that the gloves will be off as far as the media is concerned, including editors and journalists who willingly collabor-
ated with him.
Right to the end he did his best to manage the media circus, even during the course of the trial. As a general rule, high-profile defendants are normally seen attempting to evade the cameras when they turn up for their hearing. Not Clifford though. Throughout the trial, he made a point of appearing before the photographers and film crews four times a day, immaculately dressed, posing for pictures, projecting the image of a principled, consummate professional, reinforcing his courtroom stance as an innocent man, terribly wronged by the false allegations of "fantasists".
But this is a man who has built a business on blurring the lines between fantasy and reality. Five years ago, he transformed the public perception of the once reviled Big Brother contestant Jade Goody from hate figure to tragic icon. As the 27-year-old played out her final months in the media glare followed by a lavish funeral she helped plan before her death from cervical cancer, he branded her send-off a "Jade Goody Production".
This week we witnessed a pure Max Clifford Production with previously unseen footage of him video-bombing a TV reporter outside Southwark Crown Court as Clifford stood close behind the reporter, mimicking his movements and hand gestures in a bizarre self-parody delivered straight to camera. In keeping with some of his outrageous stunts over the decades, we were left wondering if it were some kind of sick joke. But this was no 'Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster' moment, it was a man appearing to trivialise the charges he faced of indecent assault with young people and children as young as 15. As evidence was heard of how he had used his connections to bully and manipulate these young people into performing sexual acts, he still couldn't resist the lure of the media.
Whether he did it as an act of contempt, denial, narcissism, or as a reflex action on seeing a TV camera in front of him, Clifford clearly did not take a moment to consider how utterly insensitive it would appear to his victims and their families.
Perhaps he thought he was still running the show, but nobody was laughing. And he couldn't manage the jury, who were reminded by the prosecutor of the nature of the man in the dock.
"He has been at the top of the media game for many years," Rosina Cottage QC told a jury of six men and four women. "He knows the strings to pull. He knows how to manipulate, lie and get what he wants. As the years went by, he got away with his behaviour, he must have thought he was untouchable."
The jury cleared him on two counts and were unable to reach a verdict on a third, but found him guilty on eight charges, involving indecent assaults on four young women aged 15, 17, 18 and 19 over a period from 1977 to 1984.
He will have plenty of time when he is sentenced to ruminate on the kind of power he wielded in the days when he could bring down cabinet ministers, hob-nob with the rich and famous, and use his position to lure youngsters for sex with promises of stardom. And whether he likes it or not, his downfall has all the elements to ensure he remains in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons – fame, power, indecent assault, a puppet master who lost control of his strings, and even a sordid discussion on the size of his penis. It hardly matters whether the story is in the public interest or of public interest – the untouchable has been brought down.
Read all about it.