Hugh Grant is trending on Twitter in the UK today not because of a film role but because of the role he played in turning the tables on a former tabloid reporter in the current scandal over celebrity phone hacking.
Grant wrote a piece for The New Statesman comprised largely of the transcript of a conversation he had with former News of the World reporter Paul McMullan, who had been one of the early whistleblowers about the paper’s invasions of privacy.
Grant had met McMullan serendipitously, but he said he wanted to learn more about how tabloids worked.
“It occurred to me just to interview him straight, as he has, after all, been a whistleblower,” writes Grant. “But then I thought I might possibly get more, and it might be more fun, if I secretly taped him. The bugger bugged, as it were.”
So Grant joins McMullan for a long, meandering barroom conversation — it took place in the pub that McMullan owns. At one point, when Grant asks who knew about the invasions of privacy and how widely the hacking was practiced, McMullan even asks in return, “You’re not taping, are you?”
“No,” Grant answers.
The talk is chocked full of juicy tidbits. McMullan argues that hacking plays a role in preserving freedom (“This is why we have a reasonably fair society.”) and he doesn’t have much sympathy for celebrities (“I mean, if you don’t like it, you’ve just got to get off the stage. It’ll do wonders…If you live off your image, you can’t really complain…”)
When Grant asks who at the paper knew about the phone hacking, he learns a little bit about his own famous tabloid scandal:
Grant: Do you think [Rupert] Murdoch knew about phone-hacking?
McMullan: Him Errr, possibly not. He’s a funny bloke . . . quite puritanical. Sorry to talk about Divine Brown, but when that came out . . . Murdoch was furious: “What are you putting that on our front page for? You’re bringing down the tone of our papers.” [Indicating himself] That’s what we do over here.
Grant: Well, it’s also because it was his film I was about to come out in.
McMullan: Oh. I see.
After a barroom interruption, McMullen continues:
“So I was sent to do a feature on Moulin Rouge! at Cannes, which was a great send anyway,” says the paparazzo/bar owner. “Basically my brief was to see who Nicole Kidman was shagging – what she was doing, poking through her bins and get some stuff on her. So Murdoch’s paying her five million quid to big up the French and at the same time paying me £5.50 to f**k her up . . . So all hail the master. We’re just pawns in his game. How perverse is that?”
“As I drove home past the white cliffs,” Grant writes towards the end of his piece, “I thought it was interesting – apart from the fact that Paul hates people like me, and I hate people like him, we got on quite well. And, absurdly, I felt a bit guilty for recording him.”
stephenfry: Sheer class from Hugh Grant. Magnificent.
mattsmithwpb: Hugh grant being funny, smart and depressing in equal measure
TwelveTens: I’m now irritated by the fact that Hugh Grant has done something that makes him less irritating.
jauntyickletrot: Hugh Grant you have tortured me with crap films for years and yesterday for the first time I would have cast you as leading man. Brilliant.