Hugh Grant revisits his role in News of the World's demise
Hugh Grant played a role in revealing the phone-hacking practices used by the News of the World, and in light of the British tabloid's unexpected death this week, he's revisiting the details of his stealthy fact-finding mission to a Dover pub -- an establishment run by former NOTW journalist and paparazzo Paul McMullen.
Grant and McMullen had crossed paths when the actor's car broke down, affording the ex-journo the opportunity to snap long-lens photos for sale to the tabloids, the "Notting Hill" star wrote in the New Statesman in April. Grant, whose phone was among those hacked over the years, got a ride and a chat from McMullen in which the latter boasted about that hacking, detailing "all the dirtiest tactics" of the tab and its relationship with police and a series of prime ministers.
"I was revolted and astonished," Grant told the BBC this week, "and then I went back a few months later to the pub he now runs in Dover and pretended to be dropping in for a pint, and I bugged him. It seemed like symmetry. And I got him talking again about these things, and I published them all in the New Statesman."
Grant, appearing via satellite, said he'd recorded McMullen speaking about money regularly passing hands between the tab's publisher and the Metropolitan Police.
McMullen bantered back from the BBC studio that in fact no money had passed hands between him and the actor that day at the pub, telling Grant, "Two pints of Spitfire cost 6 quid -- you owe me 6 quid," and adding as an aside to the anchors, "He didn't pay for his beer."
A smiling McMullen then validated Grant's version of events and called the actor's undercover work "hilarious."
"I mean, how can Hugh Grant coming into your pub with a silly little pen trying to record you be anything other than hilarious? I didn't mind being turned over."
McMullen said he suspected he was being taped but didn't believe it, joking that "you can't believe an actor who's very well-known would lower himself to such tactics," noting he "was shocked and outraged" before adding, "No, I wasn't at all, it was fine."
So all's good between the former gossip hunter and the celebrity target? Not exactly.
Grant's mood darkened noticeably when talk shifted from prying into the lives of the privileged to the recent allegation that the tab had hacked into a missing 13-year-old girl's voicemail in 2002 -- deleting messages to make room for new ones and in the process possibly hampering the police investigation and giving Milly Dowler's parents false hope that she was still alive.
"You didn't care who got hurt so long as you were able to sell your newspaper. You're not journalists, you have no interest in journalism, it's just money, money, money," Grant said. "You should try real journalism because you're not an idiot, Paul. You could probably do it."
-- Christie D'Zurilla
Photo: Hugh Grant outside the Houses of Parliament in London, where a debate regarding allegations of phone hacking by journalists was being held Wednesday. It was announced the next day that the tabloid News of the World would shut down within days. Credit: Stefan Rousseau / Associated Press