John Lloyd meets Max Clifford, the modern myth maker who yearns to represent Princess Dianaby John Lloyd / October 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Max Clifford is the best known publicist in Britain today. “Publicist” still has about it the air of its late 19th century origins: a shabby, non-gentleman type concerned to boost a product here and a personality there, hanging about newspaper offices and carrying little “tips” from source to medium, a Leopold Bloom, absorbent of a hundred slights in the pursuit of a few lines of type. Clifford bows to this in the modesty of his offices: they are in New Bond Street, but pokey and above a hairdresser.
Yet he is a big player. He has crossed the line which separates news from myth, and operates on the far side of it, beaming back messages which arrest the attention and tickle the sense of humour. In helping clients such as Antonia de Sancha put her view of her affair with David Mellor; in arranging for OJ Simpson to debate at the Oxford Union; in representing Mandy Allwood, mother-to-be of octuplets, in her dealings with the News of the World, he has carved out a new niche in the plastic universe which is the modern media: that of the aggressive defence-publicist, a friend at the bar of public opinion for whom no client is untouchable, no issue too sleazy.
He knows the law of the tabloid jungle-and since that law is claiming suzerainty over more and more of the broadcast media, his field of manoeuvre is growing. The first law is that all the news must be fitted up to be printed: it must be moulded into a form which suits the interests, prejudices, sentiments and sense of justice of the mass audience. This has always been the case: tabloid reporters are more skilled than those working for broadsheet newspapers because the latter have the easier job of representing some form of events’ complexities, whereas the former must discern in these events the kernel of myth, and make of that the “story.” It is the world of the fundamental things-love, duty, honour, betrayal-the subject of country and western songs, the things which still apply.
To move in these worlds takes, as Clifford says, a great deal of discipline. What he demands of his clients-they have included Frank Sinatra and Elton John-is absolute trust in him. They must put themselves in his hands, without reservation. He will fashion of their raw material what he can, but only if they agree to…