Monday, July 11, 2011

The Photographer In The Hedge

He must have been hiding in the hedge. From the angle of the photograph, there was no doubt about it. I had only telephoned her an hour before, so how on earth did he know we’d be there? It’s a sunny afternoon, I’d said. Let’s have a glass of wine in the garden: it’s private, and we need to talk.

At the time I put it down to chance: maybe the photographer was prowling the streets of Chelsea and just spotted us – over a six-foot high garden fence. Of course I’ve no way of knowing for sure, but the revelations of the last few days have finally offered another explanation for that photograph many years ago.

It was during a most unhappy time of my life. I’d like to write it off as just a misspent youth, but I was old enough to know better. At the time I probably called it a mid-life crisis, a few months before my 40th birthday. Now I look back with shame.

Me and a television celebrity, caught in a hotel in Los Angeles. The media maelstrom that followed caused the disintegration of my first marriage and nearly destroyed my career. Was it in the public interest? Well the paper thought the public were interested, for they gave it plenty of coverage. But public interest? Hardly. I was just a producer, she a presenter. We had a summer location fling: it ought to have faded with the autumn leaves. But in the glare of the headlines, it felt like the end of the world.

I’ll never forget the feeling of impotence and vulnerability when the tabloids turned on the spotlight. Convinced I was being being followed 24 hours a day, I kept my curtains closed, scanned my rear view mirror for pursuing vehicles, and always used a mobile phone instead of the landline, for fear of phone tapping. Big mistake.

I guess all they wanted was a picture of us together. But we both felt we’d given our spouses and children enough pain without exposing them to that additional indignity. So we avoided the paparazzi and kept our heads down.

We’d escaped from Los Angeles by hiding in the back of a car and driving like the wind to the airport. A lovely British Airways official, who’d seen it all before, brought us in through the staff entrance. At Heathrow we sneaked into separate taxis with scarcely a goodbye.

A rabbit caught in the headlines, I checked into an anonymous apartment hotel. For almost two months I looked over my shoulder, scanning the horizon for lenses, avoiding eye-contact for fear of being recognized. It was an illogical, crazy existence. In reality, nobody cared but me. I should have gone home and faced the music, picked up the remnants of my life.

One day I bumped into Jeremy Paxman. “How are things?” he asked. “Terrible”, I replied, “what with all the tabloids and everything”. He had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. The man who knew everything about the news, who every night read out the newspaper headlines on Newsnight, had completely missed the end of my world.

That made me feel much better: my story was just old news. I moved into a flat, then one day rang her and we arranged to meet. Except the photographer came too. Hacked? Who knows. Invaded? Most certainly.

It wasn’t the News of the World that published the picture, by the way. I’ll wager there’ll be more redtops under the magnifying glass once the public gets its inquiry. I just hope that, in time, the tabloids begin to work out a new balance between their freedom to publish what really is in the public interest and the basic right of every individual to simply live in privacy.

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