Geordie Greig in 2018 © David Vintiner via Getty Images

The inside story of backstabbing, feuds and intrigue at the Daily Mail

Jane Martinson investigates why Geordie Grieg was sacked—and why Boris Johnson will be mightily relieved
December 9, 2021

Since this article went to press, one of the main characters in the story, Martin Clarke, has announced that he is quitting his post as editor of MailOnline. In a statement on 3rd December, Clarke said he was leaving “to pursue new challenges” but will “remain available to the company until the end of 2022.”

When Jonathan Harmsworth, fourth Viscount Rothermere and hereditary newspaper proprietor, called Geordie Greig to his sixth-floor office  in mid-November, a month before the company’s planned 125th birthday party, few people knew what was coming, least of all the editor of the Daily Mail. After a meeting described as “brusque,” the man who had turned the Mail into Britain’s bestselling title, and won three newspaper of the year awards during his three years in charge, was ousted. 

When Rothermere announced the defenestration in an email to staff at 5.35pm the next day, the shock was audible. Greig—a favourite among many, from the lowliest trainee to the proprietor’s wife—had been appointed as the Mail’s third editor in 47 years in 2018. And now he had days to clear his desk. One seasoned Mail staffer called the decision “uncharacteristically brutal,” while another said the reaction as journalists opened his lordship’s email was “lots of people whispering ‘Fuck!’—nobody seems to have known.” 

Yet Paul Dacre, Greig’s predecessor, was almost certainly on the inside track. On the day Greig was sacked, Dacre was not only seen in Northcliffe House, the South Kensington base of the Mail, but later “grinning from ear to ear” at a book launch for Conservative peer Michael Ashcroft. According to one source, he was overheard saying: “the Lord works in mysterious ways.” It was unclear if he meant Rothermere or a higher deity. 

There was more mystery to come. Just weeks before, Dacre had reportedly vacated his office along with a largely honorific role chairing the  Mail’s parent company, and had apparently lost his chauffeur. Some saw this as clearing potential conflicts of interest in the path of his (doomed, as it turned out) bid to become the next chair of media regulator Ofcom. Greig’s departure left Dacre’s protégés fully in the ascendent—Mail on Sunday editor Ted Verity became the new head of a seven-day print operation and MailOnline’s Martin Clarke was effectively put in charge of the digital future. Then another marmalade-dropping email arrived: Dacre was to be reinstated as editor-in-chief of DMG Media, advising not only Rothermere but the two editors on the challenges ahead. 

Paul Dacre, circa 1990 © Gemma Levine via Getty Images Paul Dacre, circa 1990 © Gemma Levine via Getty Images

Paul Dacre, circa 1990 © Gemma Levine via Getty Images

Just two working days after Greig left the building for the final time, Dacre, who is now 73 and who infamously has his emails printed out, was to be found in his office taking calls into the evening. 

In hindsight, there had been signs: not only Dacre’s jolly presence in the building but the fact Clarke’s right-hand man at MailOnline, Rich Caccappolo, had been appointed chief executive of the publishing company on the day that Greig was called into Rothermere’s office. 

Few inside the building, perhaps mindful of the expected job cuts, would comment publicly. But privately, many expressed confusion. One insider said: “You need a degree in Kremlinology to work out what’s going on.” Another messaged to say: “The newsroom mood is at an all-time low. Everyone feels last three years were just a wonderful dream and now it’s cold morning… No one understands.”

With most media companies, a reshuffle at the top would be the bread-and-butter stuff of trade magazines and nothing more. The Mail is different. For a sign of its influence, look no further than the shockwaves in Downing Street when Greig’s front page on 4th November boomed: “SHAMELESS MPs SINK BACK INTO SLEAZE.”  That same day two other Tory papers, the Daily Telegraph and Daily Express, put a positive spin on the Owen Paterson story and splashed on vaccines for NHS staff and Christmas respectively. Within hours of the Mail hitting the streets, Johnson knew his bid to back the disgraced Paterson was scuppered. 

So the news that Greig had been unceremoniously dumped will not have displeased a struggling prime minister. The so-called legacy press still has the power to set the political mood—and none, in recent years, more so than the dominant mid-market title that strained every sinew to shove Brexit over the line.  

But Mail underlings could be forgiven their confusion over the sudden decapitation of a popular editor. It had been widely reported that Rothermere and his wife, Claudia, had been increasingly unhappy with the stridency of late Dacre. The appointment of the socially smoother Greig—a centrist Remainer—seemed to signal a wish for the Mail to play a less pungent role in British political life.

Why the change of heart? With most publicly listed companies, the boss would have to offer up some public comments, but Rothermere—who is in the middle of trying to take DMG into private ownership—maintains a de haut en bas disinclination to explain himself. If we exclude Lord Lebedev of Hampton and Siberia, Rothermere is the last in a tradition of press barons who wield power through print. 

Rothermere declined to talk to me for this article, confining himself to a few warm words for all the executives involved. But it seems clear that, a month before taking the 125-year-old company founded by his great-grandfather private, he had decided radical action was needed to position the Mail for a future in which revenues from digital, and not print, hold sway. In the end, a combination of internecine warfare and economic reality as print revenues flatline may have been to blame for the ousting of Geordie Greig. 

But what do these events say about a paper that holds more power than any other over British politics? Was Greig’s attempt to make the paper a “force for good” considered too boring, not only to attract readers but also make waves? Has the Mail decided that those who shout loudest are more likely to be heard in our increasingly atomised media and political landscape?

Dynastic: Jonathan Harmsworth, or Viscount Rothermere, inherited the Mail from his father © REUTERS / Olivia Harris Dynastic: Jonathan Harmsworth, or Viscount Rothermere, inherited the Mail from his father © REUTERS / Olivia Harris

Dynastic: Jonathan Harmsworth, or Viscount Rothermere, inherited the Mail from his father © REUTERS / Olivia Harris

To find out, we need to remember that, as long as anyone can remember, the Mail reflected the trademark obsessions of Dacre, its editor for 26 years. Think Alex Ferguson without the charm: a brilliant, driven, tyrannical figure who inspired loathing and admiration in equal measure. When Dacre focused his editorial crosshairs on a victim, they knew to expect—at best—a journalistic tasering. He shaped politics, destroyed careers, brutalised discourse and—for good or ill—terrified a generation of political and public figures.

Although the jury is still out on how decisive a role Dacre’s Mail played over Brexit, its increasingly hysterical headlines—in which judges were dubbed “enemies of the people” and pro-EU MPs blasted as “saboteurs”—changed the nature and temperature of the debate.

Following Dacre was always going to be a challenge—think the monarchy after Elizabeth, or nature programmes after  David Attenborough—and there were many who thought Greig destined to fail. After all, how could this old Etonian, champagne-quaffing, Remoaner, socialite biographer of Lucian Freud (as the Dacre-era Mail might have caricatured him) possibly keep his finger on the pulse of what used to be called Mondeo Man (and his Femail-reading Worcester Wife)?

When Greig was appointed editor in 2018, former prime minister John Major said he had the “power and the potential to change the political discourse of our country,” while the respected US magazine the Atlantic said that he was “a man who might change Britain.”

In attempting to do so, Greig made a public enemy out of his predecessor: when he crowed to the Financial Times that 265 advertisers had returned to the title, the unspoken implication was that they had been repelled by the Dacre paper’s relentless and toxic negativity about the EU and its supporters in the run-up to Brexit. Dacre was furious and the two men haven’t spoken since.

“Following Dacre was always going to be a challenge—think the monarchy after Elizabeth, or nature programmes after Attenborough”

Few dramas could match the bitter rivalry and eventual vanquishment at the top of the Mail, though that did not stop commentators seeing echoes of Game of Thrones—or The Wire, with its line: “When you come for the king, you best not miss.” 

“It’s like Lord of the Flies,” said one insider, and—just like the story of the shipwrecked boys brutalised by the struggle for survival—the ructions within the Daily Mail say as much about British society and the future of news as they do about a dramatic power battle. Under Dacre, the paper had been boycotted by some advertisers scared of its negative image, while some of its more aggressive stances reportedly upset Rothermere and his wife.

When the Mail overtook the Sun as Britain’s bestselling paper, Greig marked the “historic” occasion; he drew less attention to the fact sales had fallen during his tenure by 26 per cent, from 1.25m when he took over to 921,000 in September 2021, down from a peak of 2.5m in 2003 when Dacre was in charge. To be fair, Greig’s paper was suffering a less precipitous decline than other popular rivals, hit by a pandemic which also made newsprint costs soar. With the future of printed news already on a knife edge, Covid has made things a lot sharper.

“This is all about money and power, all of which trumped Claudia’s desire to have a nicer paper to talk about over dinner,” said one insider. “Even worse than outrage is for the paper not to be talked about at all because it’s boring,” said another. (It is perhaps telling that, in this story of Mail men, the only woman involved is known for socialising.)

With these latest moves, Rothermere has effectively put the aggressive, workaholic Clarke in charge of the online product, or at least a successful amalgamation of one of the world’s most popular websites with one of DMG’s most powerful print titles (the company also owns the freesheet Metro and the i newspaper).

The Daily Mail stands alone among rivals in having its print and online editions run almost entirely separately. MailOnline has become one of the world’s most viewed websites, best known for its diet of celebrities in various states of undress, while the print title prides itself on its power to set the political agenda. Verity will oversee a cost-cutting merger of the daily and Sunday titles, which until now were not only separate but competed with each other. 

Advertising veteran Martin Sorrell says picking the global website as the best bet for the future makes sense, given the way newspaper circulations are going. “They believe the MailOnline is a successful formula and you can’t deny that it has been. Now that they’re privatising the company, they are going to give priority to digital and they believe that it’s the future.” 

Douglas McCabe, chief executive of research firm Enders Analysis, said that eventually the Daily Mail itself  “will need a digital manifestation of some kind that really flies,” like MailOnline has done. “Otherwise the business is effectively saying that the Daily Mail dies with print.

“Ten years from now, you might just have two incredibly successful digital businesses, one is the Daily Mail and one is MailOnline. But fundamentally they are doing very different things.”

The Mail is cash rich after selling off some non-newspaper businesses, and Rothermere is said to have the Telegraph’s titles in his sights if ever the Barclay family choose to sell. Earlier this year, the Mail overtook its rival’s print advertising sales and a takeover would give Rothermere a 36 per cent share of the national newspaper market, on a par with Rupert Murdoch’s News UK.

Despite the declines in readership, the paper’s political impact seems just as great. Indeed, when news of Greig’s departure broke, some wondered whether Johnson might have had something to do with it. After all, David Cameron reportedly asked Rothermere to get rid of Dacre to help stop the country voting for Brexit. 

And Johnson had come under repeated attack from the Daily Mail, a paper that has never backed any party but the Conservatives, over his stewardship of the country, as well as the sleaze scandals. The criticism over Paterson followed the work by Greig’s political lieutenant Simon Walters in breaking the story of Wallpapergate, about who paid for the costly refurbishment of the Downing Street living quarters. Party insiders said the Mail terrified Downing Street more than anything the official opposition could do. 

Martin Clarke was no fan of Geordie Grieg © picture alliance / Kai-Uwe Wärner Martin Clarke was no fan of Geordie Grieg © picture alliance / Kai-Uwe Wärner

Martin Clarke was no fan of Geordie Grieg © picture alliance / Kai-Uwe Wärner

Ted Verity’s Mail on Sunday gave Johnson a far easier ride over scandals. Yet Greig’s political outrage was reminiscent of Dacre’s Mail of the 1990s, when his anti-sleaze front pages criticised John Major’s government. Indeed, neither Dacre nor Greig are understood to be huge admirers of the prime minister, albeit for different reasons. “Geordie doesn’t like Boris because of sleaze and corruption; Dacre doesn’t like him for his womanising and sexual incontinence, but the effect is the same,” said one insider.

So if it wasn’t political influence that did for Greig, what did? “In some ways, the surprise shouldn’t be why Geordie went, but why he was appointed in the first place,” said one journalist.

Greig, with a grandfather who played tennis with the King and a contacts book that famously includes film stars and Nobel Prize-winning writers, was very different from his readers, and also unlike his rivals within. Clarke, Verity, Dacre—and indeed Rothermere—all have something in common that stands in marked contrast to Greig: none of them like being interviewed by other journalists. 

In contrast, Greig’s interviews—largely to promote what he saw as the Mail’s success and which he therefore must have considered good PR—irked his rivals. What’s more, his extensive network of friends could also be used against him. 

While almost everyone in certain social circles knows Greig, who edited Tatler magazine and the Evening Standard before editing the Mail on Sunday from 2012 to 2018, hardly anyone knows Verity, who joined the Mail at the age of 25 and has stayed for the intervening 31 years. Quiet, intense and regarded as a newspaper technician obsessed by words and layouts, Verity is described as both “meticulous” and difficult to read even by those he works with. One former colleague said that while Dacre would berate you to your face and say nice things behind your back, Verity was capable of the opposite. 

His antipathy to Greig was common knowledge: he left the Mail on Sunday when Greig was appointed editor rather than work with his rival. “It’s no secret that Geordie and Ted loathe each other,” said one journalist, describing them as “chalk and cheese.” 

Given Dacre’s long tenure, his return is expected to bring a renewed war on the BBC as well as the liberal culture warriors, as he sees them, and the social media giants he had hoped to nobble at Ofcom. 

Such an agenda would suit Verity. His favourite subjects are the royal family (notably Meghan Markle, who won the latest stage of her privacy battle with the publisher of the Mail on Sunday in early December) and the BBC. Recently his papers have combined the two. Both his last Sunday and his first daily front pages, just days after Greig left, featured an attack on the BBC’s documentary about William and Harry.

Richard Sharp, chairman of the BBC, has known Greig for 20 years, and was sanguine about the Mail’s shots across the corporation’s bow before his friend left. “The BBC is in the Mail’s sights because it’s a media organisation funded by the licence fee and therefore we represent an element of competition that they’d rather didn’t exist.”

Whatever difference Verity brings to the print title, it is Clarke who is characterised by several people as “the power in the land.” A hulking figure who regularly works 14-hour days, he is known to shout and swear at his colleagues more than Dacre—a man he called a “legendary talent” in an email to staff on his appointment. Twenty years ago, Clarke was described as having “the man-management skills of a galley-master on a Greek trireme.” Since then his reputation for terrifying his subordinates has only been enhanced. 

One subject that largely fell off the front pages under Greig was migration. Rothermere’s decision to appoint him was understood at least partly to relate to the success of groups such as Stop Funding Hate in convincing advertisers not to appear in the Mail, because of Dacre’s acrid front-page stories on the issue. Launched in August 2016 to target three tabloids, the campaign led to hashtags such as #dailyfail and #dailyhate.

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One of Greig’s first acts was to contact Richard Wilson, co-founder of Stop Funding Hate, and relations between the two sides improved. Indeed, by 2020, SFH had broadened its scope to other forms of media, including social media and TV channels such as GB News, citing the fact that the number of anti-migrant front pages had plummeted from 100 in 2016 to zero in 2019. Advertisers such as Nationwide returned to the Mail.

Reports of a “truce” may have been overblown—SFH still complained about inflammatory pieces against anti-racism campaigners and academics in Greig’s Mail—but the return of Dacre provoked an instant response from Wilson. “We’re already hearing concerns from partners about where the latest changes at the Mail could lead. During Paul Dacre’s tenure, the Daily Mail was called out by the United Nations for its ‘unique’ hostility towards migrants, and name-checked in a Council of Europe report on rising racist violence” and hate speech.

The big issue for Greig was that few readers understood the difference in editorial tone and content between his print edition and MailOnline. 

Miqdaad Versi, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said that relations between his group and the Mail improved enormously under Greig, with complaints of Islamophobia for the print editions of the Times and the Telegraph taking up more of his time. In early 2019, the Mail apologised for eight serious inaccuracies written in a double-page spread about Muslim immigrants called “Powder Keg Paris” the previous summer—shortly before Dacre’s “retirement.” The Mail also ran a front-page attack on Tommy Robinson before he was jailed. Both events heralded a turning point of sorts. Versi has a different view of MailOnline. “A lot of the issues and challenges we have had over the last three years are centred on MailOnline rather than the Mail,” he said. Inflammatory headlines written “for shareability” also tend to use offensive language and to be “unfair and unreasonable,” he explained.

“People in the know understand that Geordie Greig was just in charge of print but most readers don’t,” Versi added. “Both brands are associated with each other.”

Yet the past year has demonstrated that advertisers have no problem with MailOnline. Online advertising revenues in the year to September 2020 rose 16 per cent for MailOnline, while those for all print publications owned by the Mail Group fell 15 per cent. Although the main print titles still made significantly more money—with revenues of £348m over the year compared with £164m for MailOnline—the direction of travel looks one way.

Despite suing Google earlier this year after alleging the search engine hides links to its articles on topics such as “Meghan Markle” and “Piers Morgan,” insiders say that on its current trajectory, MailOnline’s profits could overtake those of the print titles within two years. The question of how to match that success with a digital version of the print title was understood to be one of the fronts in the battle between Clarke and Greig.

The latter’s answer to the problem was to launch Mail+, a tablet subscription service to rival those launched by competitors such as the Times a decade earlier. In 2019, launch editor Tristan Davies was given a generous budget to set up a studio and hire journalists such as the broadcaster Michael Crick, as well as paying existing staff to produce daily podcasts. 

Clarke’s supporters say Greig did not pay Mail+ enough attention, while Greig’s supporters say Clarke just blocked him. The situation became so tense that when the proprietor invited Greig and Clarke to go shooting with the Duke of Northumberland, one staff member said: “Brave of Geordie to go near Martin with a gun.”

“The Daily Mail was called out by the United Nations for its ‘unique’ hostility towards migrants”

Whatever the truth, while subscriber numbers almost doubled to nearly 100,000 during Covid, the account doesn’t seem to have cut through on social media. Mail+ has just over 7,000 Twitter followers, and journalists who have been involved talk of the “tumbleweed” which greeted their content. 

Amid such tensions, the involvement of the proprietor’s 27-year-old son, Vere Harmsworth, is of note. Working in “business development” since January 2020, Jonathan’s Eton and Oxford-educated eldest son was sent to work at Mail+ for three months as part of his introduction to the family firm. In October 2020 half the 40-strong team, including Davies, departed. The young Harmsworth, who is still working as an executive in the Mail+ team, is understood to be on good terms with both Clarke and Verity. 

At 54, Jonathan is hardly preparing to hand over to the next generation, but he was not yet 31 when the sudden death of his own father, also called Vere, saw him take the controlling share in the business.

In the years since he took over, Greig’s departure is seen as Rothermere’s most brutal act. Faced with a resource-heavy newspaper and a fractious top team, Rothermere acted as he did to secure the long-term future of an empire increasingly dependent on revenues from the difficult business of news. “Jonathan wouldn’t want to be the Lord Rothermere who lost the business,” said one Mail insider. 

The challenge for Rothermere is to steer the company towards profitability while maintaining his influence and power as one of the UK’s last remaining press barons (although his family has traditionally been “domiciled” in France). 

Ask most politicians and it seems that th “Mail test”—whether the paper supports policies—is alive and well.

Jeremy Hunt, Conservative MP and former foreign and health secretary, says: “One of the great mysteries of British politics is why the newspapers continue to exert such a hold over Westminster, because we all know that readership is going down. We all know that fewer people, younger people in particular, are reading them. Yet they do still have a hold… The Mail has an extraordinary ability to set the agenda.” 

Partly this is practical. As Hunt says: “I have not cracked, and I don’t think any politician has cracked, how you get a complex argument like the need for social care reform across the internet.” Partly it is personal. Labour MP Chris Bryant says: “A front page and six pages inside can have an impact that can still feel like a body blow to a politician.” 

Under Greig, the Mail started to move on from Brexit, to consider the broader role of a Conservative-supporting newspaper when the Tory Party is more dominant than at any time since the 1980s. Yet the differences were more of tone than content. Hunt says the Mail lost “the harsh edges” it had under Dacre, while Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, noticed a change in a paper that once made his wife’s clothes the subject of an article after she attended  the unveiling of a statue of the  Queen Mother: “My perception is it’s changing very much for the better in more recent times… Some of the nastiness has drained out of it.”

Alastair Campbell, who once called Dacre’s Mail “the most evil paper in the world,” is one of many former journalists who has fond memories of working with Greig. “There is no doubt he has done things which would not have been done under his evil predecessor,” he says. “He probably did think the way this government was behaving is so astonishing and outrageous that his readers would too.” When news of Dacre’s return was announced, Campbell tweeted: “He can now spend more time with the bile and bigotry he loves.” 

Unlike Dacre, who flirted with the Labour Party in his youth, Greig has always been a One Nation Tory and was unlikely to countenance changing his allegiance. Perhaps the most telling comment about his politics came from Richard Sharp, who said: “Geordie was tacking towards the softer centre as against the sort of harder right… If I were to guess he’s really, in some sense, really old school. He was somewhere in that overlap between Tony Blair and David Cameron.”

Sharp continued: “He was trying to create a more moral backbone, in terms of scaling back a little bit on the prurience and being more of an advocate for certain policies and issues, including charities and charitable work.”

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© Lee Martin / Alamy Stock Photo

Yet even people who spoke relatively highly of Greig wondered if the paper had lost its edge a little. Liz Gerard, a newspaper analyst and blogger, remembers a fulminating Dacre front page shaming mobile phone-using drivers (controversially all foreign men), which provoked then-prime minister Theresa May into an immediate crackdown. “Dacre was running the country; I don’t think Geordie Greig was,” Gerard said.

Which raises the question of why any newspaper editor—or, indeed, proprietor—should be able to run the country. Most analyses of newspaper influence point back to the heyday of Margaret Thatcher, whose popularity among working-class voters was inextricably linked to her alliance with Murdoch’s Sun. The front pages of national titles dominated the broadcast news then and still have an influence, albeit reduced, today. 

The expansion of those who consider themselves middle class has helped the Conservative Party dominate postwar governments. Yet “Middle England,” a term used almost exclusively for southern, white-collar, homeowning, conservative-with-a-small-c voters, is now geographically and socially less clear-cut.

The situation looks different outside the capital, according to Burnham, who says the power of the press has declined enormously during his 20 years in politics. “Now they have an influence, but not a dominance.”

Before his departure, one of Greig’s earliest editors and something of a mentor, Andrew Neil, said: “The three years of Geordie’s editorship have been a huge success. He inherited a very difficult gig taking on Paul Dacre’s Mail. He was the editor of his generation who had done it for 26 years and built an incredible newspaper. That’s a long time for an editor, maybe too long.”

“Paul Dacre was running the country; I don’t think Geordie Greig was”

Most observers outside Northcliffe House suggested that Greig’s appointment had been not only successful but commercially driven. Speaking before Greig’s ousting, Kelvin Mackenzie, editor of the Sun for 13 of its bestselling years until 1994, said: “He had to follow the Sir Alex Ferguson of journalism. This was a bloody tough job to do. And in my view, it has been an absolute triumph.”

Mackenzie  said this was partly because of a successful bid to detoxify the brand. “The whole world of journalism, from the middle market downwards, has changed, as you can see with the Sun. The excesses of intemperance have had to be curtailed. Why? Not because the reader doesn’t want them, the reader absolutely wants them. The problem is that the advertisers will not support them.”

He saw Greig’s departure in largely financial terms: “MailOnline is the future. Worth an absolute fortune. Much more than the going private deal is offering.” 

Perhaps, in the end, excesses of intemperance have found their natural home in a purely digital world, divorced from the historic power and position of the print front page. In that world, gentler, kinder news finds it hard to survive. 

Instead of giving the keynote speech for the Mail’s 125th birthday celebrations at Claridge’s on 17th December, before he left Greig gave a very short speech to a large group of colleagues, several of whom were close to tears as they gave the editor the traditional farewell, banging him out on the desks. The noise could apparently be heard all the way down Kensington High Street, but the reverberations are likely to carry much further.

Postscript: After 10 days which had seen the shock departure of Geordie Greig and the return of the 73-year-old Paul Dacre, the resignation of Martin Clarke, a man most staff members considered to be in the ascendant, was the biggest surprise of all. “In any other company this would be seen as a complete shambles,” sighed one Mail insider. Most thought the departure must have something to do with both the decision by the Mail proprietor Lord Rothermere to take the company private and Clarke’s ambitions to run his own business.  

What seems clear is that Rothermere himself was not the driving force in the decision. In the official announcement after the markets closed last Friday, Rothermere said he had had to “reluctantly accept Martin’s resignation,” before going on to call him “without doubt one of the greatest editors of his generation” and to praise his “immense hard work and genius.”

While the company suggested that each announcement was planned, the surprise sequence of appointments and resignations prompted all sorts of theories, some more conspiratorial than others. 

The most plausible, expressed by his friends as well as analysts, is that after 35 years with the same company and building MailOnline into a global powerhouse, Clarke, now 57, wants to set up his own media company. Like other successful media executives, including William Lewis and James Harding, Clarke wants to take advantage of cash-rich venture capitalists willing to invest in fresh new approaches to the beleaguered news business. Clarke is said to be a bit burned out and is hankering for a new challenge. 

Clarke is understood to have approached Rothermere some time ago, but with the company going fully private by the end of this year, he was never going to be able to build up a significant stake in a family-owned business. Instead, Rothermere appears to have agreed to look at investing in any new venture. 

Claire Enders, founder of Enders Analysis, said: “Martin wants to get rich… he would have no trouble attracting substantial investment given his track record… Jonathan [Harmsworth] convinced him he would get rich quicker with DMG support.” 

By staying on until his successor is appointed, Clarke also expects to have a say in who runs MailOnline after him. The three-month gap allows the company to throw the competition open to external as well as internal applicants.  

The departure of Clarke and Greig highlights the lack of an obvious successor to Dacre, which is somewhat ironic, given that the lack of an obvious heir apparent is understood to have been one of the causes of tension between the older man and Rothermere. All that is water under the bridge however, despite the even more obvious lack of an internal successor to run the online—and therefore future—Mail.  “Dacre was for so many years Jonathan Harmsworth’s security blanket. Maybe he didn’t want to do without just before going private,” said one journalist. 

“There’s no difference between the Paul Dacre of two months ago and Paul Dacre today,” said Claire Enders. “With the balancing factors of Geordie and Martin Clarke gone, Dacre is a very powerful force.”  

While Ted Verity has full editorial control, it is not clear how much his copybook has been blotted by the Mail on Sunday’s failed appeal against the Meghan Markle privacy ruling on 2nd December. The fight has cost the company millions but, given the impetus the case has given to Fleet Street’s demands for new privacy laws to replace those from Brussels, the cause may still be popular on the sixth floor of Northcliffe House.

Indeed, conspiracy theorists have again alighted on the relationship between Derry and Downing Street as one of the causes of Greig’s departure. After the verdict, the justice secretary Dominic Raab cheered the Mail group and much of Fleet Street by telling the Times that a privacy clause might be added to the Online Harms Bill. Could this be a sort of political quid pro for getting rid of an annoying editor? Unlikely.

If DMG were a TV series like Succession, rather than a real media drama, Martin Clarke’s announcement would be a series cliffhanger, to be followed by Paul Dacre moving into the House of Lords and Lord Rothermere struggling to escape the spotlight that this latest series of events has thrust him into. As for Martin Clarke, he appears to have decided to go and make a new drama of his own.

Correction: This essay originally stated that Geordie Greig and Martin Clarke went shooting on the Duke of Northumberland’s estate. While they did go shooting with the Duke of Northumberland, it was not on his land. The piece has been amended accordingly.