Unlike many of his predecessors as Daily Express editor, Chris Williams is not one for the limelight. In 10 months as editor he has not until now given a single interview to another newspaper. "I don't like giving interviews," he admits with some understatement. "I don't see the point of it. My profile is not important. The newspaper's is."
Well, he shouldn't be disappointed there. The paper has certainly not been without a profile. This week it is a year since Richard Desmond bought Express Newspapers. And the unlikely transformation of a pornographic magazine publisher into a successor to Lord Beaverbrook has given the rest of us plenty of material.
But since he succeeded Rosie Boycott in January, Williams has kept his head down. It is what he feels most comfortable doing. A production man whose favourite description of himself is "a professional", he has come up through the ranks of the Daily Mail and then the Express. "You once called me a carpet slippers editor," he said to me a little resentfully. I said it wasn't an insult; it meant he was happier in the office and on the back bench than as a semi-public figure. He does not demur.
In the traditional sense of the word he comes across as a very gentle man, softly spoken and courteous. Indeed, when he was telling me about the "climate of fear" at the Daily Mail that he loathed when he worked there, and I asked if there was one at the Express, he chuckled and replied: "It's not really me, is it?"
But that's not to say he lacks gumption. By rights, Chris Williams shouldn't even be in the building. One of Rosie Boycott's first acts when she took over was to sack him along with a number of other middle-ranking execs. Williams recalls, more in puzzlement than anger: "I marched into her office and asked her how she could do such a thing when she had never met me and knew nothing about my abilities." She relented immediately, little realising, as they say in the best pulp fiction, that he would one day be sitting in her chair.
Desmond and Boycott working together was eventually more than either of them could stomach. Williams seems to have no such problems. He is confident enough to make a joke at his proprietor's expense when I ask him quite what the phrase "award winning newspaper" means above the masthead. "The Richard Desmond award, probably," he replies, before adding, only marginally more convincingly: "Individuals on the paper have won awards."
So how is it working with Richard Desmond? "Er, we don't do dull. It's an experience like nothing else. I've been on the Express five years and I'd never have thought I would experience the proprietor who is seen here every day. And it's just extraordinary. And far from being the ogre he's meant to be, he's supportive. And the staff like the fact that he's visible.
"When I've done page one he comes down and he looks at it, and he says whether he likes it or he doesn't like it." What, every night? "Yes every night."
And you sometimes disagree with him? "Yes, I sometimes disagree with him. But he has never told me to change the paper. He has suggested things. He doesn't say, `Change it.' But he says if he doesn't like it. So we have a discussion, and occasionally it's an argument." The real Desmond obsession, it seems, is more with the look of the paper, not least the front-page blurbs and puffs, rather than the content.
It is not just Desmond who has made media gossip for other papers. Williams too was castigated for his campaign on asylum- seekers. "Criticism of the asylum series irritated me," he says, "because some of it was internal and because I felt that the campaign was nothing to do with racism. It was a genuine campaign to get the Government to change a system which wasn't working, which it has done."
Williams's internal retort was even crisper. When he discovered that the NUJ chapel had discussed the campaign at the same meeting at which it discussed failings in the staff canteen, he wrote to them acidly, saying he was fascinated that they could equate the asylum issue with the state of the company meatloaf. …