Once upon a time, there was a Princess much beloved by the people, one who bemoaned the persistence of press intrusion until she wanted to showcase an exclusive couture outfit at a movie premiere or plug a charity she was sponsoring. The press responded by reporting what she wanted them to report, but also what she didn’t. When she suddenly died before her time the press changed tack and bestowed secular sainthood upon England’s Rose, in synch with the readership they were terrified of losing. However, whilst some who had once formed part of the Princess’s inner sanctum outwardly exhibited the same fawning posthumous worship of her immortal memory, their actions behind the scenes were not necessarily compatible with the signals they were sending out to the bereaved nation.
Unlike the emotional blackmail that can govern relationships within a family, friendships are the result of choice and often offer mutual dependency of a kind that enables us to survive our worst life experiences; and the beauty of friendship is that the roles swing back and forth. There are times when that one friend has been the lighthouse discerned through the fog and although modesty prevents us from admitting to having been their very own lighthouse-keeper, they assure us that’s exactly what we were when that was exactly what they needed. Family can do everything to you that Larkin attributed solely to parents and still expect you to love them regardless, whereas there is a deep understanding between friends that gives friendship its purity, an unspoken contract that specifies how you treat each other. If you shit on your family, they’re still your family; if you shit on your friends, the friendship is over.
For those afflicted by fame, friendships must be less secure in terms of judging the other person’s motivations. Is the friendship founded on the fact you’re famous? Would the other person still be interested in you were you not a household name? Even if their intentions are genuine, should a split occur, there is the undoubtedly tempting lure of the Bank of Murdoch cheque book. Non-famous folk fall out with a friend and the only comeback is badmouthing within a small circle or even (as is more commonly the case today) on social media; famous folk do it and the prospect of dirty linen being washed in public with a far wider audience available than Facebook can boast is a distinct possibility.
The Princess who starred in paragraph one was perhaps the most famous person on the planet for the last sixteen or seventeen years of her life; and she had a particular employee whose opinion of his own importance to her became something of a nauseating industry in the aftermath of her death. Let’s just call him ‘Rock’ (as in Hudson), yeah? That was, after all – according to him, anyway – his role in her household. If, however, he performed that role for the Princess, one we have already established as the true backbone of friendship, he didn’t really honour that role once she was gone, did he? Less than a couple of years after her demise, he published a best-seller chronicling his Rock status, and just three years later he was in court, charged with theft of her possessions. Fortunately for Rock, he evaded a sentence by virtue of Brenda’s accidental (?) intervention and the consequent issuing of a Public Interest Immunity certificate by the CPS, something that officially labelled any further revelations as being harmful to the public interest.
Eleven years (and three more memoirs) on from the Princess’s death, Rock was back in the headlines when he appeared at the inquest into that death. The coroner at the inquest, Lord Justice Scott Baker, surmised he must be a rather porous rock, given what had seeped from him since 1997, and the bad publicity Rock received as a result of his part in the inquest led him to question the wisdom of approaching a chap called Max to handle his public image, someone who had a long track record of managing media parasites.
Mad Max was not necessarily the most trustworthy person to hire for the purposes of minimising negative press coverage. Rock was persuaded to impart secrets to his new publicist in order that Max might prevent them from leaking to the tabloids, ones that surprisingly didn’t make the final edit of his honourable memoirs. Yet, this is precisely what happened, particularly with regards to that late bastion of virtuous probity, the News of the World. During that brief period when open war was declared on the Murdoch Empire and the public optimistically harboured naive hopes that the guilty parties would pay for their crimes, faxes were uncovered from Max, ones that apparently revealed some of the secrets Rock had offloaded onto his PR guru at the time of their initial union, sent directly to the dark heart of Wapping.
Since the heady frenzy of 2011, a lot has changed. Friends of Dave, Coulson and Pre-Raphaelite innocent Brooks have been exonerated, King Rupert remains the most powerful media magnate in the world, and poor old Max is currently slopping out with the worst of them at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Fearful of the damage that could be done to a career that has encompassed such indisputable high points as ‘I’m a Celebrity…Get Me out of Here’, ‘Celebrity Stars in their Eyes’, and not forgetting the landmark ‘Australian Princess’, Rock has decided to kick Max while he’s down and is suing his ex-publicist for alleged breach of confidentiality.
Last week, the High Court ruled in favour of Rock in his bid to stop Max from revealing any more of the information he passed on over a decade ago, presumably so he can save it for his next memoir. Max, of course, is at something of a disadvantage at the moment; he proclaims the actions of Rock would damage his career, though it’s hard to think of anything more damaging than doing time for indecent assaults on underage girl in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Nevertheless, Max is protesting his innocence, regardless of the High Court decision. Rock, sensing he has the unlikely possession of the moral high ground for once, will no doubt pursue the case and probably win it. Such are the financial rewards for exposing the clandestine foundations of friendship these days.
Attempting to decide which party is more despicable than the other in this unedifying case is akin to deciding whether or not you’d hire Myra Hindley or King Herod to babysit. We are witness to the ghastly spectacle of two scruples-free cockroaches grappling in a pit of excrement, dragging the beautiful concept of friendship down to their own immoral level, one in which there are no winners, just losers in that great marathon we call the human race.