Well, it’s been quite a week. And not one I’d care to repeat. If you missed what shall now forever be referred to as “the incident” I couldn’t be more pleased. I’ve declined all interviews about it and would love to send it to hidden depths of my mind, never to be talked about again. But I realise that it will be something with which I will forever be associated. My own stupid fault. I’ll tell you what, though, you certainly find who your friends are at times like this, especially among fellow media people.
Journalists have a job to do, but the degree of Schadenfreude among some of the people I had previously considered friends came as a bit of a shock. Don’t get me wrong, I had been bloody stupid and I deserved all that came my way, but it really was like vultures picking at a publishing carcass at times.
I am hardly the biggest name in the world so I was a little taken aback at the scale of the media coverage, but I reached what I think is quite an interesting conclusion. It was because it had pictures and video to illustrate it, and they were vaguely comical. Pictures tell a thousand stories. It’s why the media will cover a US shooting of three people but barely mention the deaths of 80 people in an Islamist attack on a Christian church in Pakistan.
The Damian McBride book created more headlines than a publisher could ever dream of. I knew it would be big, but I didn’t realise it would be THAT big. By Monday, two days before publication, we had to order a second print run having sold out of the first run of 5,000. It reached number 6 in the Amazon chart, the highest any of our books has ever got. It reached the top 50 on their Kindle chart, which doesn’t sound as impressive until you consider that virtually the whole top 50 are made of 99p novels.
Damian himself has also turned out to be a publisher’s dream. His manuscript was the cleanest in terms of typos and spellings I have ever seen, and it was beautifully written, needing precious little editing. He’s not used to doing interviews, yet if you have seen him on TV or heard him on radio he’s performed superbly, sometimes under very hostile questioning. Rightly, he has been at pains to point out that the Mail serialisation only covered about 8% of the book, and if you read the whole book you get rather a different impression. It’s not all lurid, gory, backstabbing spin doctory stuff.
The only real issue with the book was the libel read. We had to take out virtually any mention of Rebekah Brooks or Andy Coulson in order to avoid the risk of prejudicing either of their trials. The problem was we had completely conflicting advice from the lawyers. Normally you only get a book read once by a libel lawyer to cover these issues. But this wasn’t about libel, it was about contempt of court. In the end I decided to play safe and delete more or less the whole lot. It will all go back in when we publish the paperback.
People keep asking me how I came to publish the book, bearing in mind my history with McBride. For those who don’t remember, I was a minor part of the Smeargate emails in 2009, which culminated in Damian’s resignation from the government. He had advised Derek Draper to smear me as a racist, after I appeared to defend Carol Thatcher after her ‘gollywog’ incident. Anyway, about eighteen months after than my colleague at Total Politics, Amber Elliott, who knew Damian a little, received an email from him asking her to pass to a message to me.
The message contained an apology for what had happened over Smeargate. We then exchanged a few emails. A few months later I got back in touch with Damian and asked to meet with a view to talking about him writing a book. I had been hugely impressed by his blog and his ability to tell a story. For the next eighteen months we kept in touch until we eventually did a deal. All along I was worried that another publisher would come in and scupper us, but Damian and I had formed a good relationship and I think the fact that I understood his world and he knew Biteback’s background swung it for us. We certainly couldn’t compete financially with one other organisation I later found out who had tried to win him over at the last minute.
This story took an interesting twist this week. On Tuesday evening I was broadcasting in our little studio in the Brighton Conference centre, right next to where the Sky producers and journalists sat. At around 630pm the police turned up and my producer agreed with them that I would voluntarily go to the local station after the show finished at 8. Amber Elliott, who now works as a producer for Sky, decided to recall their cameraman who had by that stage gone home, just so they could cover my walk from my studio down to the conference exit. Nice. I am told the cameraman was less than gruntled. I guess she was only doing her job, or obeying orders, but I can’t deny it hurt when I was told about it. Perhaps I should just man up.
The next day I was set to interview Alastair Campbell back in the LBC studio about his new novel “My Name Is…” It is a superb book, telling the story of a teenage alcoholic through the eyes of twenty people involved in her life. Anyway, he arrived early so we had a coffee. While we were talking his phone rang and it turned out to be Grant Shapps on the line. Apparently Alastair was going to the Conservative conference to promote a campaign by Alcohol Concern, but had been refused a pass. The nice Mr Shapps had intervened, having been tweeted by the spin maestro, and sorted a pass for him. So for the first time in 20 years, Alastair Campbell will be at a Tory conference. If you see him, be nice to him. He’s a pussycat really. No, really.
I’m not doing many fringe events this year at the conference but if you free on Sunday night I shall be doing a panel for Dods looking at the week ahead with Liam Fox, Margot James and Anushka Asthana from Sky. It’s in Central 3 in the conference centre from 7.30pm. I’m also the speaker at the Pride Dinner on Tuesday night. I think I am supposed to be witty and amusing. Not quite sure that’s my mood at the moment. Anyway, I think there are a few tickets left and you can find the details here.
Do say hello if you see me wandering aimlessly round the conference centre. I don’t bite. Well, not usually.
And for once, if you have a go at me in the comments, you will be fully justified to. I have officially been an idiot.