There are so many reasons to hate the Daily Mail. Its puerile Savile-like stalking of celebrities’ children (Suri Cruise is filling out nicely, eh? Check out the tasty tot in her latest outfit...), its obsequious hand-kissing walking backwards sucking up to Royalty (check out Camilla’s diamonds, isn’t it heart-warming to see rich people wearing Cartier?), its blatant xenophobia and racism, its sexism, its slut and fat shaming. The list goes on and on.
I can add another reason though. A personal reason.
It was such a kind thought. My chum, Sonia Poulton, an extremely busy investigative journalist, decided to take time out from exposing scams and dodging death threats to help me publicise my project: 'Through Smoke'.
“I can’t bear to see such a great writer struggling to be heard” she said. So she made some calls, and plugged my budding book about perfume and my late mother’s obsession with it to her contacts at The Daily Mail.
Already a busy blog, what the project needed was a piece about me and what I was trying to achieve in a national newspaper, with the aim of attracting a publisher to turn it into a book.
“It would make a great piece”, she told the girls at the Mail. Ex-child television star ('Heidi', BBCTV, 1974), working to ensure her mother’s great knowledge of scent did not go to the grave with her, putting together all the notes found in exercise books and on the backs of envelopes to create a lasting tribute to a woman who knew just about everything there was to know about pong, but who had died way too early of a massive brain tumour.
Sonia not only managed to get them interested, but knowing my financial situation as only a friend can, she managed to sell me to them as a journo more than capable of writing the piece myself – to ensure I would get paid for it too.
I eventually got a ‘phone call from a Sloaney sub-editor on Femail. She wanted more info. I supplied it. Could I get 2000 words to her by (date)? Me? You kidding? I’m the deadline queen. Absolutely.
I wrote 2000 words of love for a flawed woman with an awesome knowledge, and submitted it. I heard nothing. I heard more nothing. I called.
“We haven’t commissioned this yet, you shouldn’t have written anything.”
“But you said...” I began.
“Sorry you got that impression. I haven’t spoken to the Editor yet. We’ll be in touch.”
A few more weeks went by. I got a call from another editor. A freelancer this time. Could I get my piece over to her by midday? I was at work. I said I would get it to her by 6pm.
She called me again. She told me it was “the best bit of writing” she had seen in a long time. Trouble was, this was for the Femail section of the Daily Mail, and it had to be written in a “certain way”.
She sent it back with her 'questions'. All in capitals. Shouting.
There needed to be more “emotion”. The readers would want to know.
How did I feel when my father left us? (I was fine about it. He was away filming so much, I was used to him not being there). Did I see my mother cry? (Only once, when she thought I was asleep and it was safe to do so). What were my thoughts when I saw my mother drunk at the kitchen table? (I don’t remember. Most likely irritation). Was I devastated when she died? (No, I sang the 'Ode to Joy'. What do you think? I had been expecting it. All I felt was that there was a lot to do and a lot of people to call). What were my thoughts as I cleared my home OF 34 YEARS? (That I hoped nobody had told the landlord she was dead so I could have more time). How did I feel about not BEING MARRIED OR having children? (That the dice didn’t roll that way for me). Did I blame my mother for ruining my life? (My life isn’t ruined by not being married or having children).
Nowhere in amongst all this, was any more than a passing interest expressed in the subject matter: PERFUME. Had she asked what scent I was wearing at any of these points in my life, I could have answered: L’Air du Temps, Tabac Blond, Paris, Rive Gauche, Narcisse Noir, Chanel No 22... But she didn’t ask.
She rewrote the entire thing so it read more like a snivelling penny novel “poor me” whine, and sent it back to me to ‘check’.
I refused to sign my name to it.
She tried again to tease more “emotion” out of me.
“Have you any idea how grief and depression work?” I asked. “You’re numb most of the time. You can’t quantify your feelings. If it’s a glimpse of my tortured soul you and your readers want, they’ll have to ask someone else. We don’t do that in my family.”
"I do understand that", she said. "But I also know what the Editor wants."
“Ah, so it’s not actually the readers who want all this emo crap... it’s the Editor?” That made sense.
When they were finally ready to run the piece (only after another two freelance editors had been assigned to me to force me to be more “emotional”), I was assigned a photographer and a make-up artist to make me look the way the Editor wanted as well.
The Editor, one Maggie O’Riordan, apparently has very specific ideas as to what people should look like in her weekly corner empire of The Daily Mail.
No black items, no jeans, no boots, no flat shoes. All the things I wear on a day to day basis.
A plain one colour dress please, tan tights - no black allowed (we want your legs to look as bad as possible), and high heels.
I haven’t got any clothes like that.
We’ll send you some outfits to choose from. What size are you?
I was a 12. I am an 8 now. Probably as a result of all the stress...
Can you do tomorrow?
No I bloody can’t. I’ll be at work.
Ok, Sunday then.
On the day, I was presented with a hideous blue and beige print pencil skirt (no alternatives, that or nothing) two revolting oversized auntie-mum blouses with frilly flounce down the front and made of some hideous nylon material, and an array of ghastly, towering, spiked shoes. We compromised by allowing me to wear a top from my own collection, but I wasn’t allowed to wear it in any manner that might disguise my bloated menstrual stomach. No, it had to be pulled tight over it. Maggie, apparently, “doesn’t like” clothes to be flatteringly draped.
Maggie also prefers subjects, at least the female ones presumably, to have orange foundation trowelled inches thick over their faces (is that cruelty free base? I only wear BUAV approved cruelty free cosmetics. Of course not...), buckets of shimmering eye-shadow, and virulent pink lipstick (at least 8 coats).
I never wear pink lipstick, I said. It doesn’t suit my skin tone. Haven’t you got an orange-based red matt, or a plum in there? I asked, pointing to the make-up artist’s two suitcases full of pots and brushes.
Maggie likes this colour.
Of course she does.
“You’re not the first to feel this way”, the make-up artist finally said kindly. “It’s just this is how Maggie wants things.”
“- And if you don’t do what Maggie says, she won’t run your piece, and you won’t get paid” chimed in the photographer.
Suddenly, the make-up artist spotted my signet ring.
“Does that ring come off?” She asked.
“What...this?” I looked down at it, sitting snugly, quietly and discreetly on the little finger of my left hand. At the lion’s head erased within a fetterlock, engraved by the lovely old chap who scratched the names of Wimbledon champions on the famous gold pineapple topped men’s trophy and the women’s Rose Bowl. My mother’s family crest.
“Yes.... when I die, and it goes to my niece.” I said.
Maggie apparently doesn’t like jewellery either. Even heraldic jewellery.
At least I won that one, but for a person who spends her life in flat boots, I still had to spend two hours on my feet in 4 inch red stilettos. My legs and back were on fire. No, sorry, no sitting shots. "Don’t tell me... Maggie doesn’t like them?" Bingo...
And so I ended up looking like a bloated 50 year old Chantelle Houghton in a brown wig, with her arse sticking out, smirking like an Essex barmaid. SMILE SMILE SMILE.
The pictures were appalling.
I got a professional cameraman friend to take some alternative shots of me, complete with some of the bottles from my mother’s perfume collection (oh yes, that was what the article was meant to be about, wasn’t it...? It’s ok, it would be completely understandable if you’d forgotten), but naturally, these were rejected. The quality was apparently not good enough. The quality of his photography to date has been good enough for films like Shakespeare in Love, but sadly, it would seem that if he ever wanted to work for the Daily Mail, he’d have to go back to snapper school...
|Me in my own clothes, with make-up by cruelty free GOSH (and applied by me), with perfume bottles from the collection of the late Sally Blake. Pic by Simon Jones (definitely not good enough for the Daily Mail - sorry Simon...)|
And after a few more months, and a few more exhortations to make it more “emotional”, the piece finally appeared, on the 12th of January 2015. Both in the paper, and online.
It was a travesty. I looked awful. I came over worse.
Inevitably, fast flowed the comments from the readers. They who apparently 'demanded' blood and guts.
“Trading on her dead mother's hard work.”
“Trading on a series she did 40 years ago.”
And lots more along those lines.
There has been absolutely no interest whatsoever from any publisher or agent following.
They wanted me to show more emotion? They finally got it when they printed the piece to which they put my name.
I cried my fucking eyes out.
22 February 2015