ERRORS, EXAGGERATIONS AND PURE FICTION
The Sun's showbusiness editor, Dominic Mohan, has scooped the most prestigious gong at the Shaftas, the Kate Thornton award for the worst showbiz interview. Mohan's position at the pinnacle of showbusiness journalism was confirmed at the annual showcase of the most embarrassing journalistic errors, exaggerations and fictional content. The Kate Thornton award is reserved for a journalist who has failed spectacularly to reach behind the PR hype to reach the kernel of the story. And Mohan proved himself more than up to the job with this interview with Mariah Carey, conducted just three weeks before the singer's attempted suicide. 'Mariah Carey drapes herself on an antique sofa in a suite at London's Mandarin Hotel and looks at me with those huge brown eyes,' wrote Mohan, so presciently. 'I can tell she feels freer and more confident in herself now.'
Ever since Geoff Baker - the former Daily Star reporter turned Paul McCartney PR - wrote that Princess Margaret was to appear in the original series of Crossroads, the Shaftas (previously the Princess Margaret awards) have had plenty of reason to carry on wantonly. This year was no exception, as more than 80 journalists crammed into the trendy Century Club last night for a verbal punch-up with colleagues. The News of the World's Lee Harpin won this year's celebrity set to die award, for his curtain-raiser on the most natural and predictable wedding of the decade, Elizabeth Hurley and Steve Bing.
Harpin's exclusive beat competition in the shape of the News of the World's Rav Singh, who 'revealed' that S Club 7 were to split by the end of the year. It also trounced the sporting guesses by the Standard's Richard Simpson and the People's Sean O'Brien - both of whom staked their bylines on Westlife splitting - and the Star's Nigel Pauley, who 'revealed' that the bride of Satan, Billie Evans, was to spawn. Pauley also excelled himself during the year with an exclusive that Bart Simpson was 'to lose his virginity'.
This year the best apology or corection [sic] award was perhaps the toughest for the judges. It finally went to Matthew Wright. In October 1998 Wright alleged a play by former Starsky and Hutch star David Soul and his partner, Alexa Hamilton, the Dead Monkey, was watched by just 45 people. He claimed it would have made more sense to use the theatre as a venue for the homeless. The Mirror's apology, printed in 2001, noted that Soul had accepted 'significant' damages from the Mirror, adding: 'In fact, Matthew had not seen the play but, as was his practice, sent a freelance journalist on his behalf.'
In a new award, the 3am girls picked up the Battersea Dogs' Home: 'I think you may have been sold a pup' gong. Beating Victoria Newton's exclusive revelation of the budding friendship between Madonna and ex-EastEnder Michelle Collins (based on, erm, the fact both were photographed in the Sun looking rough), 3am took the golden biscuit with a stern rebuttal of rumours of Liz Hurley's pregnancy. On November 1 2001, just days before the news of Hurley's pregnancy was confirmed, 3am published the following: 'Thin Lizzy steps out. While other absurd publications wittered on about Liz Hurley being pregnant, we held our counsel, aware that the rumours were utter tosh. And just to prove the point, here's the divine Ms Hurley leaving her London home yesterday looking as svelte as an - er - unpregnant person.'
The Shaftas would not be complete without Rav 'I can exclusively reveal' Singh winning a gong. This year Singh, whom, the judges said 'was inexplicably the highest paid showbiz journalist of his generation', picked up a specially designed 'my friends at Nokia' trophy for his services to product placement. Not content with plugging hair products, Orange phones, Pepsi, BT, Mastercard and Capital Radio, Singh more touchingly used his column to plug Alex, his 'supermodel' girlfriend. Readers were urged to gasp at her appearance in a Lynx advert, marvel at her appointment as a formula one pit girl and thrill at the news of her offer of a record deal with the Westlife manager, Louis Walsh.
The Sunday People's James Desborough picked up the 'can we hear the tape?' award for verbatim quotes in honour of his 'George Harrison knows he's going to die soon' exclusive. The showbusiness editor of the Express and Star was voted worst pundit of the year after he appeared on Radio 5 Live to discuss Kate Winslet's marriage breakdown. When asked why she split from Jim Threapleton, group showbusiness editor Ben Todd replied: 'I don't know.' When pressed for an answer, he snapped: 'Look, it was my day off and it was my son's birthday party.'
Fleet Street's time-honoured appetite for kiss and tell remained undaunted during 2001, the judges found, even in the immediate aftermath of September 11. Jules Stenson came a close second for the Mills & Boon award for the best kiss and tell after revealing Osama bin Laden 'fled from his family's Western ways after an American girl took one look at his naked body and burst out laughing. A close pal [they are always close] said: 'She mocked him because he had such small sexual organs.' But Stenson was outstripped by rivals on the Sunday People, who clinched the award for their exclusive on the 'non-stop booze and sex before massacre' story.
They uncovered several lapdancers, such as Monica (no surname supplied), 24, who summed up the mood of terrorised nation just 10 days after the worst terrorist attack in global history. 'Of course, I feel cheap and ashamed,' she explained. 'I cleared maybe $12,000 from those beasts.' For the poignancy of his reports, editor Neil Wallis and the Sunday People were duly awarded. The Kerry Katona award for quitting before you're ahead went to the Sunday Mirror's Polly Graham, who left the 3am column she practically founded just before it hit the big time.
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