Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Media Column: The Press Once Dedicated Enormous Space to the Aristocracy. Now We Have a Different Elite, Covering the Worlds of Press, TV, Public Relations, Publishing and Politics

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Media Column: The Press Once Dedicated Enormous Space to the Aristocracy. Now We Have a Different Elite, Covering the Worlds of Press, TV, Public Relations, Publishing and Politics

Article excerpt

You can't beat posh sex. Nor can you beat a "cat fight" between two moderately well-known women. That is why the names of Boris Johnson, Anna Fazackerley, Cristina Odone and Julia Hobsbawm have recently been so prominent. They are the principal actors in two dramas which involve, in different senses, the alleged seduction of journalists. Other folk have played walk-on parts, including the editors of this magazine and the Spectator, as well as such exotic creatures as Petronella Wyatt and John Lloyd. You may think none of these people--except possibly Johnson--is of the smallest importance to our national life. You would be wrong.

The British press once dedicated enormous space to the aristocracy. An obscure baronet's wife or duke's daughter need only snag a dress to get a paragraph from the Mail's Nigel Dempster. It didn't matter that most readers had never heard of most of them. They were part of a social network that exercised genuine power and influence.

Now we have a different elite, equally interconnected and influential. It covers the worlds of press, TV, public relations, publishing and politics. In this milieu, as in the old aristocratic milieu, almost everybody knows everybody else, and they are frequently related by past love affairs, if not by blood or marriage. The social psychologist Stanley Milgram claimed any two Americans were connected through as few as six social acquaintances. He called it "the small-world phenomenon". In the new British metropolitan elite, I doubt you need as many as six love affairs to connect any two people to each other's beds.

The interest in Johnson is perhaps unsurprising, given his high TV profile. But the scale of it is remarkable all the same. After the News of the World revealed his "secret trysts" with Fazackerley (a journalist), the Independent on Sunday devoted a column to his sex appeal and a double-page spread to his apparent "sex addiction", while its diary seemed to allege that he is still, as it were, carrying on with the journalist Petronella Wyatt, a relationship that led to his departure from the Tory front bench.

The attention given to Hobsbawm is more remarkable. If Boris is more famous than his numerous relatives, Julia is certainly less famous than her father, Eric, a distinguished historian. She works in public relations, formerly with Sarah Macaulay, now the Chancellor's wife.

Last year she launched Editorial Intelligence (or e.i) "to foster good relations between PR and journalism". …

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