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Jumbo holds up a Mirror to tabloid life

Stop The Press! An Inside Story Of The Tabloids In Ireland

John Kierans

Merlin Publishing, €12.99

Irish culture was lost in the tabloid hall of mirrors so long ago that it is a pointless exercise to wonder what the real Ireland is any more. And somehow I doubt John Kierans spends his evenings pouring over the collected works of Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard and Descartes searching for answers, but the editor of the Daily Mirror in Ireland has written a funny, insightful and highly entertaining book here.

Kierans has, as he says so himself, spent "23 years at the coal face of red-top reporting in pursuit of the biggest stories in crime, showbiz, sleaze and scandal".

Nurse, the screens!

Large of anecdote and size, Jumbo -- to give him his proper title -- has seen it all and lived to tell the tale in bold, giant, Jumbo even, typeface across the front page. There are Boy's Own tales of "narrowly" escaping death to deliver the "true stories behind the Gulf War" (the author reported from the frontline in Kuwait).

There are also highly excitable "madcap" assignments to gatecrash Rod Stewart's wedding to Rachel Hunter and equally madcap, or dare I say, Monty Pythonesque, assignments to "track down Julia Roberts after she ditched Kiefer Sutherland at the altar".

Our hero also recounts meeting Bono and Ali in Miami in the mid-Nineties after "trigger-happy cops fired at least 100 rounds of bullets at them in Jamaica as they disembarked from their aircraft, hitting the plane at least eight times, after authorities mistook them for drug smugglers."

"You couldn't make it up," quips Jumbo who has never done such a thing.

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Standing in the Florida sunshine, the U2 singer and his wife were "both in good form and very thankful to be alive" writes Jumbo. Bono breathlessly tells the Mirror's man in Miami: "I don't know how we came through it. These boys were shooting all over the place, you felt as if we were in the middle of a James Bond movie -- only this was real."

"Only this was real" can be applied to most of John's increasingly breathless prose. He recalls meeting a contact in the summer of 1996 in a Dublin hotel and being handed a file with all the details to prove Michelle Rocca had been "two timing Van [Morrison] with Angus Gold who at the time was racing manager in Newmarket for Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, one of the world's richest men".

"She had been meeting her married lover for," writes Jumbo, "regular nights of passion in the Dublin hotel while Van was away from the Dublin home they shared, working on his music."

The story was splashed on the front page and five pages inside. Jumbo even rang Morrison for a comment. "It's all over, I've been betrayed. We're finished," he told Jumbo. (Van and Michelle are, of course, now possibly showbusiness's happiest couple.)

Jumbo has a butch/homoerotic turn of phrase throughout Stop The Press! that is almost quaint in its Hemingway masculinity. When, for instance, pop manager Louis Walsh fell out with the Mirror's showbiz editor Paul Martin (another good egg), Jumbo "got Walsh on the phone and let him have it with all guns blazing".

He told Walsh, according to Jumbo's recollection, that if he wanted a tabloid war, he, unlike Martin, was "a nasty bastard who would piss all over him from here to kingdom come ... Within hours, Louis was back on the phone and we made the peace."

Defending Bono and rallying against what he calls "the usual bitchiness and begrudgery that scars almost all of western society today," Jumbo says he'd have Bono and U2 "any day before most of the d**kheads in celebrityland". And therefore in the Mirror too, but I digress.

Jumbo has the famous character to match his girth. I've had a good few nights out with him over the years. Personally, I think he goes some way to disprove George Bernard Shaw's theory about newspaper editors being unable to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilisation... whatever about bumbling Jamaican narco-cops being unable to discriminate between Bono and Pablo Escobar.