The John Terry story is the latest in a series of scandals that have dominated the British tabloids and enthralled and horrified the nation in equal measure. When Vanessa Perroncel found herself the vilified figure at the centre of the media storm there was only one man that she could turn to: Max Clifford.
Max Clifford is a deeply controversial figure but there can be little doubt that as a man who decides what goes into newspapers and what stays out of newspapers, he is one of the most powerful men in British society today.
Clifford is the publicist supreme, the man who had perfected the art of ’spin’ whilst Alastair Campbell was still writing for soft porn magazines. He is a deeply driven, principled man full of contradictions: he is both a fire fighter, expert at protecting his clients and stopping stories making it into the public domain, and arsonist in chief ready to expose celebrity indiscretions when he sees fit.
Max was born in 1943 into a very poor background. Leaving school with no qualifications, his quick wit and mastery with words found him a job as a journalist at the age of 15. From there he became a publicist for EMI and by the age of 27 had founded his own PR company, Max Clifford Associates.
Even at this tender age his client list was hugely impressive counting Frank Sinatra, Marvin Gaye, Muhammad Ali and Marlon Brando among his clients.
Clifford’s particular brand of media manipulation first hit the heights in 1986 when he created spectacular publicity for his client, the comedian Freddie Starr. Clifford spun the fabricated story that Starr had eaten the pet of a young woman called Lea La Salle. The ensuing headline “Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster”made the front page of The Sun and has now passed into media legend.
Clifford’s principles took centre stage in the Nineties when the left-leaning Clifford blamed the Conservative government of John Major for the lack of treatment afforded to his daughter as she fought against juvenile arthritis. He vowed to bring down the Tory government and his succession of scandals against Conservative ministers helped to create the climate of sleaze that saw them lose power to Tony Blair’s Labour Party.
Whilst his work has made him a very wealthy man, Clifford has often worked for free to protect ordinary members of the public that he believes have been harshly treated by the media or corporate giants. A woman who had been a contestant on television’s ’The Weakest Link’ and had been subsequently exposed as a prostitute found an unlikely ally in Clifford who worked for free on a positive media campaign for her, claiming that he had felt sorry for her.
Clifford’s work remains controversial, the public perception is that he is creating stories rather than reporting them. Whilst he now says that most of his work involves burying stories rather than encouraging scandal, the great and good are still in fear of the man who can end their careers with one flourish of his pen or one impromptu press conference. From impoverished school boy to media manipulator-in-chief and political kingmaker, it is unlikely that we will ever see the likes of Max Clifford again.
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