SUNDAY 19  MAY 2024


I trousered a fortune from this picture of Princess Di in the sky

SNAPPED: The pic taken from a car on the M62 in 1987 and the Star splash

Lloyd Turner spiked my exclusive probe into the curious finances
of football’s most powerful boss


The story in the Manchester Evening News about a woman who found the face of Diana in a slice of ham reminded me of one of my greatest triumphs as a freelance journalist. A pal tipped me off to a couple on Merseyside who had been testing a new camera as they drove along the M62. The woman (in the passenger seat) took a shot of the sky and when she developed the film (yes, pre-digital age) there was the face of Diana.

I drove to their home and sure enough there was no mistaking the late Princess's visage in the sky. I offered the story to The Sun, who thought I was nuts and just laughed. Undeterred, I took the tale to the Daily Star who duly SPLASHED the story. Page One. A nice pay day. 

But within an hour I took a call from the American magazine The Globe who asked me if they could buy the American rights to the snap for $6,000. I agreed, splitting the money with the delighted Scousers. 

The moral of the story is: when assessing newsworthiness, trust your judgement and don't take no for an answer.

BROKE THE RULES: Alan Hardaker


My colleague Frank Curran and I stared at the teleprinter in disbelief.

‘Football League secretary Alan Hardaker has today stepped down and Graham Kelly will take over the role,’ it said.

To us this moment was like something out of All The President’s Men.

The most powerful man in English football would no longer oversee day-to-day running of the league, and we had triggered it.

Frank and I had just arrived back in the Daily Star building in Ancoats, Manchester after a fiery meeting in 1979 with Mr Hardaker, 67, in his office in Lytham St Anne’s, near Blackpool, a 55 minute drive away.

It hadn’t started well.

Hardaker’s first words to us were: ‘You’ve got five minutes and then you can fuck off!’

We were there to challenge him over why he had broken his organisation’s own rules by being a director of a company that printed The Football League review, a magazine inserted in most clubs’ programmes. Inquiries at Companies House confirmed it.

The magazine had started as a private venture but ran into financial trouble and was taken over by the league, although it was printed by an independent private company.

In advance of the meeting we had also checked with the Football League’s President Len Shipman (without mentioning Hardaker) who had insisted that no employee could earn money from a contract between the Football League and an outside supplier. It was a sackable offence, he said.

Irascible Hardaker got angry over ‘the tone’ one of Frank’s questions. The deadpan Scot, sadly no longer with us, replied: ‘I’ll obviously have to go away and work on my interview style.’

Hardaker claimed the arrangement was ‘all agreed’ and duly noted in Football League committee minutes. He sent a flunky away to retrieve the relevant document. But the staff member returned saying he ‘couldn’t find’ the appropriate minute book.

Frank and I had been working on the story for several weeks. We took all our documentation to editor Lloyd Turner. The Australian, not noted for his knowledge of association football, was not impressed. ‘Ok, you’ve shown he broke the rules but you can’t say how much he got out of it.’

Companies House simply listed ‘emoluments to directors’ as a lump sum. There were three directors: the print firm’s owner, Hardaker and another man, who told us he got £15,000 a year. ‘I presume Alan gets the same,’ he told us.

Turner said that if we couldn’t show exactly what remuneration Hardaker received he would not run the story and that was that.

The world exclusive that never was.

Hardaker was no stranger to controversy. In 1955, he boycotted Chelsea's bid to enter the first ever European Cup competition. Football in Europe involved ‘too many wops and dagos’, he told a Times journalist.

He was also blamed for forcing Manchester United to take the fatal flight that led to the Munich air crash, telling manager Matt Busby that failure to play the scheduled weekend match would mean expulsion from the First Division.

In 1980, less than two years after our investigation, Hardaker died from a heart attack.

BINNED: Daily Star reporter Dearsley’s intro to the 1979 story


Absent minded sayings of diary editor Guy


As a freelance I used to do shifts on the Manchester Evening News diary. I loved it.

The diary editor was an eccentric cove called Guy Meyler, pictured, sadly passed away. He had been a very good reporter, a close friend of comedian Barry Humphries and was a punctilious editor.

Unfortunately, his memory was failing. Anxious to ensure no errors slipped through he often used to throw out crazy questions to the scribblers on the diary desk. 

Here are some of the best…

The Olympics...they are every five years aren’t they?

Is it happy Mondays with an "s" ?

When Nat Lofthouse was dubbed “the Lion of Vienna”...who were England playing?

Does Jack Duckworth play Bill Tarmey  (Coronation Street actor) ?

What is 42 minus six?

Who is that? (as Granada TV’s top reporter Bob Greaves walks into the office)

Isn't David Lloyd (the ex England cricketer) a black man?

Are the Academy Awards the same as the Oscars?

Have you heard of a TV company called CNN?

This Bobby Ball, is he part of a comedy duo?

The Sooty Museum, is that something to do with Indian burial rituals?

I'm living in the wrong century.

I wish I'd lived in the 1800s...but having toothache would have been


A chap called MacIntosh once asked my great grandfather to put some money into his new invention — toffee — but he said "it'll never catch on”.

What's Prime Minister Major's first name?

What do you call ducks' paws?

I'm 63 this August. When will I be 65?

This actor Michael Douglas. Is he local?

What is a Mexican Wave?

He's a windsurfacer

Steve Davis (snooker legend). Is he a Piccadilly Radio DJ?

How did John Lennon die?

Who's Bill Wyman?

What's Shilton's first name. You know the goalie. is it Alan?

The famous cricketer W.G. Wells

Dunlop...they make tyres don’t they?

Max Clifford screwed me out of £750 News of the World story fee

Clifford outside court in 2014. He died in prison three years later


If someone wrongs you, just remember that wonderful Chinese proverb: “If you wait by the riverbank long enough, the body of your enemy will float by.

So it was that I raised a wry smile in May 2014 when Clifford was sentenced to eight years in prison after being found guilty of eight counts of indecent assault on four girls and women aged between 15 and 19. Three years later, while still behind bars, he died from a heart attack, aged 74. Huzzah!

Clifford was a very nasty piece of work. Under the pretence of being a ‘top PR man’ he ruined a lot of people’s lives by peddling lies about famous people to the tabloids.

My beef with him was over a story about the reboot of the dormant career of the artist The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.

The singer’s agent had rung me about the project and I negotiated a page lead in that weekend’s News of the World, ensuring huge publicity for the act.

As a freelance that story would have netted me £750. A day later, the agent said Max Clifford had heard about it and was “taking over the story”.

‘I’m sorry, George, but Max’s agency has promised a raft of follow-up promotional activities,’ he said.

The NoW even used vast chunks of the copy I had written and asked the agent to improve on the story they eventually ran.

Needless to say Max did F-all afterwards and the career of the man who made his mark on pop history with the iconic hit Fire turned out to be a damp squib.