• Wed
  • Sep 24, 2014
  • Updated: 12:45am

Rupert Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch is an Australian American media mogul and founder of global media holding company News Corporation. Owner of British tabloid The Sun and broadsheet The Times, Murdoch's News Corp went on to acquire Twentieth Century Fox, HarperCollins, The Wall Street Journal and BSkyB. In July 2011 Murdoch faced allegations that his companies, including the News of the World, had been regularly hacking the phones of celebrities, royalty and public citizens. He faced police and government investigations into bribery and corruption by the British government and FBI investigations in the US. On 21 July 2012, Murdoch resigned as a director of News International.


Rebekah Brooks, the tea girl who became queen of Rupert Murdoch's castle

Charming Murdoch ally Rebekah Brooks was fuelled by raging ambition. But after her acquittal in the UK phone-hacking trial, can she rise again?

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 June, 2014, 5:54am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 June, 2014, 5:54am

When Elisabeth Murdoch celebrated her 40th birthday in the summer of 2008, Rebekah Brooks produced a 32-page souvenir edition of tabloid newspaper The Sun for the guests at her party.

It contained joke stories, a spoof agony aunt column and a Page 3 picture with Elisabeth's head grafted on to the body of a naked woman and the headline "Lizzie's the breast".

Brooks had also secured personal messages from Tony Blair, the then British prime minister Gordon Brown and his eventual successor David Cameron.

There were also messages from two serving cabinet ministers, John Reid and Tessa Jowell. All of them were effusive, if not sycophantic.

The paper carried the draft of the speech made by Elisabeth's husband, Matthew Freud, as the great and the good and the remarkably rich gathered in their 22-bedroom priory near Chipping Norton, 100km northwest of London. "This house," Freud said, "has played host to seven monarchs over the years, but perhaps it has not seen quite such an illustrious gathering as tonight."

And there, in a single evening, you have Rebekah's world - the wealth, the power and, with the souvenir Sun, her own highimpact way of registering herself as an ally to the elite.

You also have some of the dark side of her newspapers.

Every single one of those effusive politicians had been targeted directly (or in Cameron's case indirectly, via finance minister George Osborne) by private investigators who used illegal methods while working for the News of the World.

Brooks is almost indefinable - a contemporary shapeshifter, light and dark, adored and loathed. One moment, she is charming her way through life, taking Sun reporters to the annual love-in with their readers at an old Butlins holiday camp and chatting to the lady who serves the coffee in the Old Bailey central criminal court canteen.

Feminist journalists took her in as a friend when she joined the leadership of the Women in Journalism group.

The next moment, she was Lady Macbeth with a BlackBerry, a model of cold ambition, a hate figure with her face portrayed as a witch in the window of a supermarket near the News International building in east London.

Brooks is, as one old friend puts it, "the prime schmoozer". She is brilliant with men, charming, tactile, very nearly seductive.

One man who dealt with her often - a man who is happily married and 20 years her senior - recalls with some embarrassment that "whenever we spoke, she left me thinking that, well, if things had been a little bit different [a sigh] perhaps we would have been together". She is also brilliant with women - intimate, comic, always an ally, complimenting them on their clothes, researching their families so she can ask just the right question.

She will lovebomb her targets with offers of assistance - "I'll make a call" - and, famously, with gifts. A made-to-measure suit of armour for her then partner, Ross Kemp, permanently displayed near the front door of the home they shared in south London.

A portrait titled "Amazing Grace" for Rupert Murdoch's then wife, Wendi, when they named their newly born daughter Grace. A hamper full of organic food for a rival editor who was in hospital.

Former colleagues say the area around her office was littered with presents, infuriating her managers who watched her regularly busting her £5,000 (HK$64,000) budget for gifts and entertainment.

Some of those closest to her suggest all this is artificial, the work of a great manipulator.

According to one of them: "She has no friends, only contacts. She doesn't have conversations. She has transactions. She always has an agenda."

And she has been willing to dump those who disappoint her.

She befriended Gordon and Sarah Brown. But, as the politician's career dipped, she caused them misery by exposing the cystic fibrosis of their newborn son, Fraser. She then led a campaign to ensure he was ousted as prime minister.

It was this potent mixture of charm and aggression that fuelled her brilliant career, rising from an inauspicious beginning in a semi-detached cottage in the charming village of Hatton, near Warrington, northwest England. After making tea at the local newspaper during school holidays, she was a secretary at Eddie Shah's short-lived tabloid, The Post. Then she clambered onto the bottom rung of the ladder in Rupert Murdoch's empire as a researcher on the News of the World's magazine in 1989.

Just 20 years later, she was the chief executive of his UK company, running all four of his UK titles, aged only 41.

Former colleagues say she groomed those she needed for success. As a humble feature writer at the News of the World in 1994, she made a close ally of her editor, Piers Morgan, and fell in love with him, according to one friend. He promoted her. By the time he left in 1995, she was wooing the senior management of News International and, one source revealed, even took up golf so she was able to socialise with them.

Chief executive Les Hinton became part of her network and is credited with teaching her how to play politics in the corridors of power. By 1996 she had Blair on speed dial and his media adviser, Alastair Campbell, as a friend.

Her ambition was obvious, blatant even. In 1996, Hinton made her deputy editor of the News of the World under Morgan's successor, Phil Hall, and, according to a senior source, she did her best to usurp him. "She would be whispering in Lis Murdoch's ear, or Les Hinton's ear, 'That's my job,'" the source said.

In the event, in 1998, Hinton switched her to The Sun, making her deputy to the new editor, David Yelland. "It was the same with Yelland when he was made editor of The Sun," said the same senior source.

In May 2000 she finally got Hall's job and immediately brought in Andy Coulson as her deputy. Three years later, in January 2003, she took Yelland's job at The Sun, leaving Coulson to run the Sunday title. By that time, she had made her most important ally - Rupert Murdoch.

Almost alone among her contacts, Brooks appears to have formed a genuine bond with Murdoch - not only a gatekeeper to power but also a father figure who loved her cheek and daring.

From her earliest years at The Sun, colleagues say, she went far beyond any other journalist in his organisation in appealing to his affections.

She organised birthday cards for him, wrote his speeches for family events, took up sailing with him and recruited Elisabeth to her network.

Along the way, she began to enjoy a life of wealthy self-indulgence. Friends speak of her sending her chauffeur to Harrods to buy a paté she had liked in a restaurant the previous night.

She also ordered secretaries to get her frocks and insisted on the best tickets at the theatre and the most luxurious rooms in hotels.

The hacking crisis blew a hole in her world. But Murdoch is still with her. She still has the wealth, renting a flat around the corner from the Old Bailey to make it easier to get to the trial.

And she still exudes the confidence of the powerful. One of the trial lawyers made notes in which she was referred to as "HM" for Her Majesty.

She has told friends that she intends to make a comeback, citing the jailed Conservative cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken as a role model.

She has also said she will never write her memoirs because she will not betray Murdoch's secrets. There is no sign that he is about to betray her either.

When she resigned he gave her a pay-off of £10.8 million. Since then she has been spotted holidaying on a Murdoch yacht and was telling anyone who would listen the media tycoon was sure she was innocent.

Now that the jury has acquitted her of all four charges, the Rebekah Brooks story is certain to continue.


Related topics

For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive




SCMP.com Account