Rise and Fall of Most Powerful Woman in Fleet Street

The Evening Standard (London, England), July 15, 2011 | Go to article overview

Rise and Fall of Most Powerful Woman in Fleet Street


Byline: Tom Harper and Jonathan Prynn

THE resignation of Rebekah Brooks marks a spectacular fall from grace after one of the most dazzling ascents to power in Fleet Street history.

The story of how the flame-haired girl from Cheshire rose to edit Britain's two biggest selling newspapers -- becoming along the way a confidante of prime ministers, royalty, showbiz stars and, crucially, her boss Rupert Murdoch -- is already the stuff of media legend.

Rebekah Mary Wade was born in 1968 and grew up as an only child in the village of Daresbury. At 14 she decided to become a journalist and began her career "making tea and helping out" on weekends at Eddy Shah's Messenger Group of newspapers in Warrington.

After A-levels and a stint in Paris, where she took a temporary job on an architecture journal, a family friend helped the teenager land a job as a secretary at Shah's new tabloid The Post. Her exceptional ambition was quickly noticed. One early triumph came when she offered to drive 900 miles in her clapped-out Renault 5 to pick up a crate of "aphrodisiac beer" from Strasbourg being offered as a prize.

She joined News International at 20 as a secretary on the News of the World but quickly secured a job as a feature writer on its Sunday magazine.

Wade's talent and unmatched drive was soon spotted by the paper's editor Piers Morgan and in turn by Rupert Murdoch -- an extraordinary achievement for a junior member of staff. Fabled stories of that time include her preparations for an interview with Princess Diana's lover James Hewitt, when she reserved a hotel suite and allegedly told journalists to "kit it out with secret tape devices".

She once disguised herself as a cleaner and hid for two hours in a bathroom to get access to The Sunday Times printing presses, according to Morgan.

She grabbed a copy of the freshly printed newspaper, which carried the serialisation of a new biography of Prince Charles, and ran with it to the NoW, which cheerfully ripped off its sister paper's scoop word for word. By the age of 30, such commitment to the cause had lifted Wade to deputy editor of the Sun and by 2000 she became editor of the News of the World.

She had steadily acquired networking skills that propelled her all the way to the top. It is said she took up horse riding and golf when she learned two of her editors enjoyed the pursuits.

When she started sailing lessons, a colleague asked: "Who sails?" She replied: "The Murdochs, that's who."

She married EastEnders actor Ross Kemp in 2002 but became the subject of tabloid splashes herself in 2005 when she was arrested for allegedly attacking her husband following a latenight engagement with then Home Secretary David Blunkett.

She was released without charge and it is said that Rupert Murdoch arranged for a designer suit to be sent to her while she was in custody.

The couple divorced and in 2009 she married Old Etonian former racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks.

While editor of the NoW she launched a "name and shame" campaign identifying paedophiles after the murder of schoolgirl Sarah Payne. The campaign boosted circulation and led to legislation known as Sarah's Law.

In January 2003, Brooks became the Sun's first female editor. Months later she told a Commons committee the paper paid police for information.

She was appointed chief executive of News International in September 2009 -- sealing her reputation as one of the most powerful and well connected women in Britain. Until today.

Editorial Comment Page 14 Sebastian Shakespeare Page 15 More reports Pages 4-7 A MESSAGE FROM REBEKAH BROOKS At News International we pride ourselves on setting the news agenda for the right reasons. Today we are leading the news for the wrong ones.

The reputation of the company we love so much, as well as the press freedoms we value so highly, are all at risk. …

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