As evidenced by the pic of him partying with college girls at right, British romantic comedy person Hugh Grant is a man of many talents. Among those talents is one many of may have never suspected — covert James Bond-esque spy capable of bringing down an entire news organization.
As you may have heard, international media mogul Rupert Murdoch shut down News Of The World — his scandal-plagued tabloid newspaper — yesterday amidst a 5-alarm hacking controversy, some suspect to bury evidence, for whatever it’s worth. Staffers of the papers were alleged to have hacked into the cell phone voicemails of murder victims, dead British soldiers, celebrities, politicians, EVERYBODY, for leads on stories. It’s all just stunningly revolting.
Hugh Grant was one of the celebrities whose phone was hacked. When he found out, he tracked down his hacker and secretly recorded him detailing how it was done.
When I broke down in my midlife crisis car in remotest Kent just before Christmas, a battered white van pulled up on the far carriageway. To help, I thought. But when the driver got out he started taking pictures with a long-lens camera. He came closer to get better shots and I swore at him. Then he offered me a lift the last few miles to my destination. I suspected his motives and swore at him some more. (I’m not entirely sympathetic towards paparazzi.) Then I realised I couldn’t get a taxi and was late. So I had to accept the lift.
He turned out to be an ex-News of the World investigative journalist and paparazzo, now running a pub in Dover. He still kept his camera in the car’s glove box for just this kind of happy accident.
More than that, he was Paul McMullan, one of two ex-NoW hacks who had blown the whistle (in the Guardian and on Channel 4′s Dispatches) on the full extent of phone-hacking at the paper, particularly under its former editor Andy Coulson. This was interesting, as I had been a victim – a fact he confirmed as we drove along. He also had an unusual defence of the practice: that phone-hacking was a price you had to pay for living in a free society. I asked how that worked exactly, but we ran out of time, and next thing we had arrived and he was asking me if I would pose for a photo with him, “not for publication, just for the wall of the pub”.
I agreed and the picture duly appeared in the Mail on Sunday that weekend with his creative version of the encounter. He had asked me to drop into his pub some time. So when, some months later, Jemima asked me to write a piece for this paper, it occurred to me it might be interesting to take him up on his invitation.
I wanted to hear more about phone-hacking and the whole business of tabloid journalism. It occurred to me just to interview him straight, as he has, after all, been a whistleblower. But then I thought I might possibly get more, and it might be more fun, if I secretly taped him, The bugger bugged, as it were.
Like I said, Hugh Grant is a man of many talents…
The transcript of his conversation with the former NOTW hacker is here. And here he is discussing the whole thing on the BBC…