THE story of Rebekah Brooks’ life has played out like a soap opera created by an out-of control script-writer for whom no plotline is too fanciful or excessive in the desperate bid to hold on to viewers, writes Dani Garavelli
“We’ve had the humble origins, the rapid rise to power, the fall from grace, the affair, the personal betrayals and the criminal charges.” You can imagine him saying: “How’s about we throw in a surrogate baby? That should stop anyone from flicking over to the Jimmy Savile scandal.”
The tale that has unfolded before and during the hacking trial owes a little to EastEnders – the alcoholic father, the clandestine sex and the arrest on suspicion of whacking her then partner Ross Kemp, the last of these a doof doof doof moment made all the more compelling by the fact that Kemp is better known as one of Walford’s Mitchell brothers and the source of many doof doof doof moments of his own.
In terms of her flash-cash, hedonistic lifestyle, though – the parties with the Chipping Norton set, the flying off to Venice for lunch and back to London for dinner – it is closer to Dynasty, with a dollop of Jilly Cooper’s Riders thrown in. And when it comes to her unbridled ambition, the way she schmoozed the rich and powerful, mesmerising them with her almost mythical charm, even as she twisted the knife in their backs, it is pure House of Cards. As she fought her way up the career ladder, she gathered allies and schemed against those who stood in her way. Her former lover and deputy editor Andy Coulson, who was last week convicted of conspiracy to illegally intercept communications, is said to have joked that the essence of good tabloid journalism is turning someone over and having them phone the next day to thank you. It’s a dark art, but one at which she apparently excelled.
It takes great force of personality to carry off the role of the anti-hero in such a way that the audience stays interested in you as your many faults are laid out before them, but Brooks achieved it with aplomb. Everyone who has spent time in her company talks about her magnetism, her power to win over even those who are predisposed to dislike her. That power, they say, lies in the way she makes you feel like you are the only one in the room worth talking to; the way she treats you like a trusted friend, a confidante, a potential lover. Like many alluring women she has been described as a witch, but at the height of her career she had more in common with a siren, luring successful men and women to her shores so they could be dashed against the rocks of her ambition.
Whether she exercised these powers over the jury in the hacking trial, we will never know. It’s fairer to assume that, having listened to the evidence, they put all personal sentiment aside and decided that there was no evidence that proved beyond reasonable doubt Brooks knew about the phone-hacking carried out as part of The News of the World’s news-gathering operation.
So, at the point where the “villain” of the story ought to be getting her comeuppance, we have yet another twist: Brooks being cleared of all charges. Instead of paying the price, she gets to walk off into the sunset, like Fagin at the end of Oliver. Her reputation has been tarnished. She will always be the editor who didn’t bother to find out how her newspaper’s scoops were being obtained, but, as her husband, racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks points out, she is also the innocent victim of a witch-hunt.
Nor has the trial robbed her of her people skills, if the appearance she made outside the £5 million townhouse she rented for the duration of the trial is anything to go by. You might have expected her to sweep out like some gloating Cruella de Vil in a coat made out of the scalps of disgraced politicians. Instead she stood there make-up-free, demure but classy, in her Jaeger dress, delivering a pitch-perfect performance. Bottom lip trembling, but still in control, she managed to find the middle ground between humility and arrogance, regret and self-justification, self-pity and an acknowledgement that, with friends, family and her two-year-old daughter Scarlett to enjoy, she still had plenty to be grateful for.
This appearance was a sure sign that we have not seen the last of her. Some commentators have suggested she will now devote herself to her daughter, but it is impossible to imagine her as a stay-at-home mum. And, though charity work would no doubt be good for her profile, altruism has never been her strong suit.
Given her track record for worming her way back into people’s affections, it seems more likely she will take up a role in Rupert Murdoch’s empire or use his backing to launch a new venture. Murdoch has long treated her as another child and though her relationship with his son James and daughter Elisabeth has been fractured by the scandal, the solicitous way he has behaved towards her suggests his love for her is enduring.
Given there are those who believe the News of The World was sacrificed to save her, a return to News UK (the British arm of Murdoch empire) seems unlikely, but a move to Australia where News Corps has media interests has been mooted. She may have appeared drawn when she spoke last week but there was also a inner resilience that suggests that the Rebekah Brooks soap opera has plenty of life left in it. Whatever direction she decides to go in, it seems safe to say, there will be more cliffhangers to come. «