A working class hero is something to be
Having worked with a host of big names, from The Beatles and Frank Sinatra to O.J. Simpson, Simon Cowell, Jade Goody and, currently, Imogen Thomas, he is one of the best-known PR men in the world, famous for breaking some of the biggest stories in newspaper history – and also for successfully suppressing ones that were ready to dominate the headlines. But behind the high level jousting with the hardened bootboys of the British media (and the decent types too), Max Clifford is a remarkeably straightforward and down to earth working class character, who – as it turns out – loves the life he lives.
Olaf Tyaransen, 15 Jun 2011
“Sorry about this, but could you come back in about an hour? I’ve got Imogen here right now, and I really need to talk to her.”
This Hot Press interview has been postponed once already, and your correspondent is justifiably worried that it’s going to happen again today. When I arrive into the plush Mayfair offices of Max Clifford Associates, the instantly recognisable, white-haired, PR guru is being interviewed by a TV news crew. It’s Tuesday, May 24, and the Ryan Giggs super-injunction story has just messily broken all over today’s front pages. Clifford is advising the Manchester United star’s alleged ex-lover, Big Brother star and former Miss Wales, Imogen Thomas, on how to deal with the fall-out. As well as talking to the media about it.
The walls of his spacious offices are covered with framed newspaper front pages – including the notorious 1986 Sun headline ‘Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster’ – and photographs of him with some of his most famous clients. Clifford opened his PR agency in 1970, at the age of 27, and in the interim has handled some of the world’s biggest stars. In his early days, he represented the likes of Frank Sinatra, Joe Cocker, Don Partridge, Marlon Brando and Marvin Gaye. Although much of his business nowadays is corporate, his celebrity client list has expanded over the years to include footballers, sports stars, pop idols, TV personalities, politicians, and even the occasional murder suspect (including O.J. Simpson).
Think of any major UK celebrity news story from the past 40 years and chances are that Clifford was somehow involved. However, he maintains that most of his work in the modern era is more about burying stories than hyping them.
When I return an hour later, Thomas has departed. Glancing at his Rolex, Clifford says he has time to talk (“You need 45 minutes? You’ll be lucky!”) and waves me into his personal office.
Neither friendly nor unfriendly, he’s a curiously neutral character. He seems slightly absent-minded, often talking to the ceiling, but he rarely pauses before answering any of my queries. He doesn’t make a lot of direct eye contact. Obviously a serious multi-tasker, you get the impression that there are several things going on simultaneously in his 68-year-old brain.
There are two mobiles on his desk as well as a landline. All three ring at least once during the course of this interview, and he immediately answers each time. I’ve included one of those conversations – presumably with a tabloid editor – as it saved me having to ask the question myself.