Daily Mail: How the other half lived


From Private Eye, 2004

When Nigel Dumpster retired from the Daily Mail his rather splendid third floor office was vacated by the rest of the diary team on the orders of editor Paul Dacre, who wanted to move them into the newsroom where he could keep an eye on them. This led to an unseemly scramble among the Mail executives for the old Dempster billet.

First in was greasy managing editor Lawrie Sear who tried to establish squatters’ rights by storing boxes of internal correspondence in there. Next day the office resembled an Iraqi ministry after the fall of Baghdad, packed with hacks leafing through the files – mostly memos to and from Dacre written in the late 1990s.

And very revealing they were too – particularly about pay disparity at the Mail between Dacre’s pets and the galley slaves. They show that in 1998 the salary of royal correspondent Richard Kay was £91,000. Other notable earners included: Geoffrey Levy, £97,000; Paul Johnson, £105,000; Simon Heffer, £140,000; Keith Waterhouse £168,000; Sports writer Ian Wooldridge £175,000. Nigel Pratt-Dumpster himself collected a modest £205,000. Six years and many pay rises later, all these salaries should be increased by about 30 per cent to bring them up-to-date.

This was almost embarrassing for Sear, who ordered the papers to be shredded forthwith and began trying desperately to conceal his security lapse in the hope of escaping Dacre’s wrath. Too late, alas! Many of the documents had already been handed over to Lord Gnome. Here are some of the people who feature in this thoroughly dodgy dossier…

Lynda Lee-Potter

220px-Lynda Lee-Potter

In early May 1997 Paul Dacre invited Princess Diana to dinner at the Savoy to celebrate Lynda Lee- Potter’s 30 years with the Daily Mail. On 6 May she sent an acceptance. 

Whoops! With impeccable timing, the very next day Lee-Potter’s column included a catchy little item about Diana and her secretaries.

"Dear Paul," the Princess wrote to Dacre. " Having read Lynda Lee-Potter's column this morning it is with great regret that I have no alternative but to withdraw my acceptance … I do feel that with Lynda's continuous hostility towards me, it is now impossible for me to attend an evening in her honour. I am deeply saddened to take this course of action, but I have no other choice.”

Dacre replied that he quite understood her feelings. "I was away when the offending item appeared,” he explained. "I always seem to be away when things like this happen! For my part, however, I am absolutely determined that the Mail maintains the good relationship it has always enjoyed with you.” 

Peter McKay


On 21 August 1998, Mohamed Fayed sent Dacre a blistering letter complaining about the "heartless cruelty and utter hypocrisy" of Mail diarist Ephraim Hardcastle, aka Peter McHackey. "You should know the truth about Peter McKay," he raged, “a greedy and ungrateful wretch who habitually tells lies about me. When he edited Punch for me I gave him a generous salary of £180,000 a year [in 1996] only to be repaid by disloyalty and criticism behind my back… I gave McKay nine months and everything he asked to get Punch up and running. He gave me a turkey. He was a disastrous editor and his conduct was disgraceful. He drinks more than it is good for him and bites the hand that feeds him. My dog has better manners. I tolerated his frequent wining and dining and entertaining at my expense. But you do not need me to tell you of his excesses on that score.”

Indeed not. The Dacre dossier includes an irate memo from McKay in July 1997, complaining that the managing editor has been arbitrarily cutting his expenses. "This isn't acceptable," McKay fumes, "since it suggests – and presumably is meant to suggest – that they are lies … if you think that I spend too much on entertaining I would like you to say so.”

Attached to the memo are a week’s worth of expenses claims, mostly lunches and dinners with important "contacts" and "sources". Almost all of these guests turn out to be journalistic pals such as "informant Ms Sands" and "contact Ms McDonagh” (his old Evening Standard colleagues Sarah Sands and Melanie McDonagh), Or "informant Simon Hoggart" (a lunch bill for £109.41, no mean feat in 1997).

A year later a memo from Lawrie Sear to Dacre notes that McKay’s basic salary from the Mail in 1998 was £167,000. Is it any wonder the poor wee laddie couldn't afford his own meals?

Daniel Jeffreys


During the 1990s the Eye often drew attention to the flakiness of Daniel Jeffreys, a British freelance who wrote regular features for the Mail from New York. Two years ago he was eventually sacked after fabricating an eyewitness account of an execution in Georgia. But it transpires that the late Lord Rothermere had his doubts long before that. He was particularly enraged by Jeffreys’ series of articles in 1998 warning old people to shun Viagra, human growth hormones and other elixirs which promised to "roll back the years”.

"I see that you still employ that unbelievable bore Daniel Jeffreys," Rothermere wrote to Dacre on 29 May 1998. "I would like some humour rather than this anti-life stuff. It has inspired me to order a vast supply of Viagra to defy the little squirt.”

It isn't clear if "the little squirt" refers to Jeffreys or to his lordship’s failing powers. Either way, four months later the 73-year-old Rothermere had a massive fatal heart attack almost certainly provoked by that "vast supply of Viagra” .

Conrad Black


In the fortnight after Princess Diana's death, Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore ran a string of articles denouncing the Daily Mail for hounding the Royals. Dacre and Lord Rothermere retaliated with equal ferocity, whereupon Conrad Black fired back at them. But then, quite suddenly, it was all over. Why?

The file obtained by Lord Gnome has a letter from Black to Rothermere dated 17 September 1997. "I am hoping," he writes, "that the editorial disagreement between our people will now subside or, at least, be conducted privately." A day later, Rothermere tells Black: "I am delighted that this editorial disagreement between us will now subside and I have asked my people [ie Dacre] to leave this matter alone in the hope that we shall not receive further outrageous attacks from Moore.”

Not that all was sweetness and light. Conrad Black’s olive branch letter of 17 September accuses Rothermere of being, "in Leninist parlance ‘a useful idiot’." In reply, Rothermere informs Black that Charles Moore has “totally taken leave of his senses”.



The former Evening Standard cartoonist Jak was well known as the greediest man in Fleet Street, a reputation fully confirmed by a memo dated 5 March 1998. Noting that the company car of Mail pundit Andrew Alexander (a Jaguar XJS convertible) is due for replacement, Lawrie Sear tells Dacre there is an alternative to shelling out £56,000 for a new one.

"We could ask Andrew if he wanted Jak's old car which is one year old and has done just 7,000 miles." How so? "The company owns a Mercedes 500SL which has both hard and soft tops and cost £82,000. It was evidently cartoonist Jak's car but when it arrived he didn't like the colour so got a different one.”

Andrew Alexander

columnist andrew alexander

On 9 October 1997, after receiving a complaint from Lord Rothermere about Alexander’s Neanderthal views, Dacre replies to his Lordship: "I suspect that Andrew Alexander is a dinosaur but then I am pretty sure a great number of our readers are too." He adds this cryptic sentence: "As for Vague and Portillo (and Brown and Mandelson too for that matter) well, God help the family…" What could Dacre be implying about Messrs Hague and Brown?

Jonathan Cainer


Goblin-faced astrologer Jonathan Cainer has long been the best paid hack in Fleet Street. In 1998 the Mail gave him a basic salary of £87,000 but also half the proceeds from its horoscope phone-lines. This, a memo from Sear to Dacre reveals, brought the stargazer an extra £500,000 that year. Yes, half a million quid. Yet the file is full of complaints from Cainer that he ought to get more.

In 2000 he defected to the Express, where editor Rosie Boycott let him have all the phone-line income. He then accepted an even more lucrative offer from the Mirror before the Mail tried to lure him back a few weeks ago. His proposed new Mail deal is worth well over £1 million a year, but on past form it can't be long before Sear and Dacre start receiving those old familiar demands for a pay rise.

Jonathan Holborow


In 1998 Peter Wright succeeded Jonathan Holborow as editor of the Mail on Sunday – and, soon after arriving, discovered that his predecessor had "made some very extravagant and disadvantageous commitments”. In a memo to Dacre on 30 October 1998 he cites examples of this “lunacy”. Dame Shirley Porter’s advisor Roger Rosewell "is paid £80,000 just to come in two days a week to write a leader column and ghost the occasional feature". Freelance William Langley "is paid £500 per week simply to be available to write features, which are then paid for on top of that fee. He has written hardly anything". Tory political lobbyist Charles Lewington is paid £2,100 a month to provide "political and media industry intelligence, editorial and PR advice and the odd news story” – but, Wright observes,"so far he hasn't offered a single thought”.

Dacre was as horrified as Wright. He wrote to the new Lord Rothermere detailing Holborow’s appalling "cronyism". By then, however, Holborow had already banked the £1 million pay-off he collected after his sacking. He was last heard of running a shop in Kent and acting as part-time advisor to Richard "Dirty" Desmond on, er, "editorial integrity”.

© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre