Max Clifford and the front page of The Independent newspaper featuring a picture of former Miss India Pamela Singh
London, April 29: Britain has had many sex scandals over the last 50 years, starting with that of Jack Profumo, the Tory war minister who was caught sleeping with good-time girl Christine Keeler back in 1963.
But there hasn’t been anything quite like that involving Max Clifford, who was found guilty yesterday at Southwark Crown Court in London of eight charges of indecently assaulting young girls who were promised stardom in exchange for what men everywhere seek in return for career advancement.
Clifford, who was the master of selling “kiss & tell stories” to the tabloid press for more than 20 years, is now in a position which no one could have imagined — he has himself become the story.
And, ironically, there is no one to sell his side of the tale for a lucrative fee.
The 71-year-old faces a prison term of five years, possibly longer, when he returns to court on Friday before the judge, Anthony Leonard QC.
After a week of agonising, the jury cleared Clifford of two charges and was unable to reach a verdict on one count.
“You must realise that the fact I have given you bail is no indication of what the final sentence will be,” the judge said.
Clifford posed for photographs but told reporters he had been advised by his legal team to say nothing.
Clifford’s conviction presents a serious dilemma for dozens of senior newspaper executives who have “supped” with him, as it were, over many years.
In the offices of Max Clifford Associates in New Bond Street, there hangs a front page with a photograph of Pamella Bordes, the former Miss India, Pamela Singh, who was fed sacrificially to Fleet Street because Clifford said he wanted to protect his real client.
But there were two other Asian women who were his clients — Shilpa Shetty, after the Bollywood actress won Celebrity Big Brother in 2007, and a Bangladeshi secretary, Faria Alam, who had a brief fling with the then Swedish-born England football manager Sven-Goran Eriksson in 2004.
Former Mirror editor Roy Greenslade, who now writes a column for the Guardian, today recalled “my tricky times buying scoops from the go-to publicist”.
“I am going to resist the opportunity to kick Max Clifford now that he is down,” began Greenslade.
“I think I first met him in 1981 when I became assistant editor of The Sun and my memories of my dealings with him are certainly mixed,” he continued. “He was, to say the least, tricky. No matter how often I (or my explosive editor, Kelvin MacKenzie) pledged not to deal with him any longer, it was impossible to do so because he came up with the goods. By that, I mean he brokered stories and pictures that, for a variety of reasons, were considered to be guaranteed sales-winners.”
“Celebrities who either found themselves uncomfortably at the centre of some story, or those who simply sought publicity, inevitably found their way to Max,” he added. “He was the go-to publicist. I was shocked when he was charged and I am shocked about his being found guilty.
“Whatever problems I had with him, I never heard such rumours about his private life.” It is remarkable that not one journalist even got a whiff of Clifford’s private predilections.
It is reckoned that if Clifford sold a client’s story, his cut was about 25 per cent (Shilpa Shetty’s mother, being Indian and money minded, thought this was far too much and ended her daughter’s dealings with Clifford). But on a deal of, say, £250,000, Clifford could bank £62,500.
If the Mirror quibbled, he would say: “OK, I’ll give the story to the News of the World.”
More often than not, he got his way — and the tabloids their money’s worth. Girls who bedded celebrities, especially lithe sportsmen, invariably had “nights of passion” with men who could manage it “five times a night”. Eriksson “romped” with Faria on the stairs of his home in Sweden.
As Britain’s PR supremo, Clifford represented such celebrities as pop mogul Simon Cowell, reality TV star (the late) Jade Goody and boxer Muhammad Ali. He also brokered deals with the tabloids for kiss-and-tell stories such as actress Antonia de Sancha’s affair with Tory minister David Mellor, secretary Tracy Temple’s fling with Labour deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and actor Jude Law’s tryst with nanny Daisy Wright.
Given the alleged virility of the men who gave their women the best sex they ever had, Clifford’s own trial had a bizarre aspect — there was much debate about the precise size of his manhood. Witnesses spoke at length about, well, length.
At one point the judge was forced to send the giggling jury members out of the courtroom to calm them down.
He told them: “It is inevitable in a case dealing with this sort of graphic detail that members of the jury want to burst out laughing. I can remember a very boring court case and we — I wasn’t a judge then — became helpless with laughter and the judge had tears in his eyes and it took over 25 minutes to recover.”
“But we have got to remember that this is a court of law and we are dealing with serious allegations, and, in fairness to the witness and the rest of the court, you have got to learn not to react to what’s happening,” he said. “Can I ask you to settle down and remember where you are?”
Clifford has become the first person to be convicted as part of Operation Yewtree, the national investigation sparked by abuse claims against the late Jimmy Savile, the former BBC presenter.
Prosecutors portrayed Clifford as a well-practised manipulator, who promised to boost his victims’ careers and get them to meet celebrities in exchange for sexual favours.
The court heard from a string of women who testified about Clifford’s behaviour, romping naked in his New Bond Street office.
Victims included one girl who said Clifford abused her on a number of occasions after he met her family on holiday in Torremolinos in Spain in 1977 when she was 15.
She claimed he would come round to her house, impressing her parents and speaking about how he could make her a star, before taking her out in his car and molesting her. She later wrote him an anonymous letter saying he had made her life “a living hell”.
Another alleged victim, who was an extra in the film Octopussy, claimed she was targeted at Clifford’s office in 1981 or 1982, aged 19.
Clifford told her that actor Charles Bronson wanted pictures of her in her underwear to decide whether she could be in a film, and after she had spoken on the phone to a man claiming to be Bronson, Clifford pinned her down on a sofa, but she fought him off. Another was an aspiring model who went to his office in the early 1980s, when she was in her late teens, and was told to pose in her underwear.
She said that as she took off her dress, he told her, “What a turn-on”, and groped her, and after a phone call with his wife tried to force her to perform oral sex, telling her he
would get her a part in a Bond film but she would have to sleep with Cubby Broccoli.Clifford repeatedly denied the claims, calling his arrest and prosecution “a nightmare” and
branding his accusers “fantasists”. He dismissed the claims, branding them “lies”, “rubbish”, and “ridiculous”.
Speaking outside court, Detective Chief Inspector Michael Orchard from Operation Yewtree said: “I would like to thank the victims for their courage and strength in coming forward to speak to us. I hope they feel and know that they were listened to. While this was a high profile trial, officers work tirelessly to bring offenders of sexual abuse to justice on a
Jenny Hopkins, Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS London, said that the “verdicts provide a long-denied justice to the victims of serious sexual offences. … The victims of sexual abuse, whenever it may have taken place, should know that police and prosecutors will listen.”
Peter Watt, director of National Services at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, commented: “Max Clifford has rightly been unmasked as a ruthless and
manipulative sex offender.” One of the victims in the case, who had just turned 15 at the time of the assaults, said she was “relieved” that “justice had been done”.
“When I think of him he makes me shudder and he makes me feel ill,” she told BBC Radio 4.
“He was an opportunist. He saw a vulnerable person and took advantage of somebody who was a child and it was awful. It was a nightmare and it had huge implications for me as a young person. To see him then go on to become very high profile, to speak openly about other paedophiles and damn them and create a persona of a respectable high profile man, who was lauded by the media, was sickening to say the least.”
However, a number of people did speak up for Clifford.
Sky TV presenter Clare Tomlinson, who worked as Clifford’s personal assistant in 1991, said
her former boss had “an old-school charm”. She told the court: “He wasn’t the sort who would pat people on the bum.” Ex-model Jilly Johnson said Clifford acted as her “mentor” and helped launch her acting career. The former Page 3 girl told the jury that she believed the celebrity agent was an
“honourable man”. The youngest of four children, Clifford, who left school at 15 with no qualifications, began as a shop assistant in a department store. He went on to work for EMI in 1962, where he promoted acts including the Beatles, before branching out on his own and setting up Max Clifford Associates in 1970.
In one radio interview Clifford said that the sexual climate was free and easy with the arrival of the birth control pill. “All kinds of things went on and I do mean young girls
throwing themselves at them in their dressing rooms at concert halls, at gigs, whatever. They (the stars) never asked for anybody’s birth certificate and they were young lads ... suddenly everyone’s dream was a reality.” There certainly was another side to Clifford. He helped raise millions of pounds for a variety of different charities and helped care for his daughter Louise, who was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis when she was six. Her mother Liz died from cancer in 2003, and Clifford himself has suffered from the disease, but he only revealed he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer after his treatment had finished.
He re-married in 2010, tying the knot with his former personal assistant, Jo Westwood. While Louise has been with her father every day in court, his current wife has been conspicuous by her absence. According to today’s Daily Mail, she plans to divorce her husband after securing a large settlement.