MEDIA PROFILE: Maintaining a busy diary - Adam Helliker, diarist, Sunday Telegraph

’I believe that the best quality a gossip columnist can have is, bizarrely enough, discretion.’ So says Adam Helliker, the new man behind the Sunday Telegraph’s Mandrake column.

’I believe that the best quality a gossip columnist can have is,

bizarrely enough, discretion.’ So says Adam Helliker, the new man behind

the Sunday Telegraph’s Mandrake column.



’Discretion applies to people who tip you off, be it a Cabinet minister

or the hat check girl at Annabel’s. You can’t afford to alienate those

people. You have to be the messenger, but also a filter,’ he says.



Helliker is joining the broadsheet title after a staggering 17 years

working with Nigel Dempster at the Daily Mail - an association which

ended in a highly publicised bust-up between Dempster and his former

number two.



He was first offered Mandrake two years ago but was not in a position to

accept and although he cites Dempster as a great mentor, he acknowledges

that he was unlikely to take over the Daily Mail column.



Helliker took the traditional route to Fleet Street of working on local

newspapers. He worked on titles in Somerset with a brief stint on

defunct regional channel Westward TV as a news writer along the way,

before finally being seduced by the lifestyle of a diary hack.



He feels that the time was right to leave the Dempster column and

although he has no major changes to Mandrake planned, he does aim to

make it ’slightly more social’.



’Mandrake is more cerebral. I think the era of looking in from the

outside was very much a 1980s and early 1990s phenomenon where people

were earning lots of money and you could write stories about people

having 6,000 bottles of champagne at a party. But now readers want

intrigue and a bit of a laugh,’ he says.



Helliker says he will discuss the future of the column in detail with

Sunday Telegraph editor Dominic Lawson but says he doesn’t want to spend

his time writing about aristocrats: ’People aren’t interested. It must

have that political element because the Sunday Telegraph is a

politically active paper.’



While many PR people may regard their involvement in diary columns as

little more than damage control, Helliker believes that the best PR

practitioners must build strong relationships with diarists. This also

encompasses getting to grips with the style of the column and the timing

of deadlines. ’Trade-offs are very important and one diary story can

ruin years of a PR person’s hard work. This is a mutual back scratching

business and a good practitioner will choose their story well and know

that it will sit well within the column,’ he explains.



Helliker says that some PR people do this well ’they invite you to

parties where they know there will be people you want to talk to,’ he

says. But he adds: ’I think that a lot of PR people are slightly

reticent about phoning people like me up and I wish they weren’t.

However, those who phone up a daily diary say at 5.30pm are just asking

for trouble.’



Helliker is not a fan of mass-mailing journalists with press releases:

’I know that being ticked off the mailing list looks like the job’s been

done but it ultimately doesn’t mean anything, whereas that one telephone

call with a famous name and a diary story can make all the

difference.’



HIGHLIGHTS

1978

Reporter, Western Times

1981

Diarist, Nigel Dempster column, Daily Mail

1998

Mandrake, The Sunday Telegraph



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