British press turns mission of Mercy into a Major circus

Besieged former British Prime Minister John Major called on a banquet room full of Dallas elite to "become ambassadors of mercy," but he might have been directing his plea to the ravenous British press throng outside.

Besieged former British Prime Minister John Major called on a banquet room full of Dallas elite to "become ambassadors of mercy," but he might have been directing his plea to the ravenous British press throng outside.

Mercy Ships, an ocean-going charity based in an East Texas town so small it doesn't show up on highway atlases, had invited Major to the Lone Star state months ago. The charity, which operates a flotilla of hospital ships that bring treatment to the world's ailing poor, saw the speech as a windfall PR opportunity, and Dallas' A. Larry Ross Communications planned a press conference prior to the October 2 speech.

Unfortunately, Mercy Ships' PR plan hit the rocks when days before, London's The Times revealed that Major had a four-year affair with fellow minister Edwina Currie in the 1980s. The voracious British press smelled blood, and Major's Mercy Ships appearance was to be his first since the scandal broke.

Sure enough, they descended on the Fairmont Hotel like locusts. Mercy Ships cancelled the media briefing and rescinded all media credentials for the dinner.

Hurricane Lili ostensibly nixed another Major appearance in Galveston, TX the following night. Spurned, the British press showed little mercy, and empty-handed local reporters resorted to interviewing their British brethren. But Ross said all kindly complied with pleas not to use a photo snapped by a local reporter who snuck into the banquet room through a catering entrance.

"This event was about Mercy Ships, not the Love Boat," Ross insisted.

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