Essentially, if the memoir is honest it is likely to involve breaches of the confidences of former clients or employers. If it does not, it is likely to contain a measure of at best spin and at worst untruth.
Put simply, an autobiography falling into the latter category is likely to be an approved or authorised version of those about whom it writes, rather than the unvarnished, spin-free truth advertised on the jacket. It should carry a health warning about cover-ups, obfuscations and omissions.
Partly for these reasons, I have resisted any temptation to take Alastair Campbell’s recent diaries to the beach. I know the man, admire his achievements but disagree vigorously with his politics and his influence on the political process.
I am aware, however, that among references to me in his diaries is one relating to Alastair’s entry for 17 July 2003. It sets out such a curious chain of events around Alastair’s Downing Street operations that it caused me to reflect again on the motives of any PRO taking the publishers’ silver.
The entry recounts how, while Alastair was flying to Washington with the Blairs, he learned that Blair’s Sedgefield agent had received a tip that ‘enemies of Cherie’ were about to meet at a Kensington Hotel. A researcher was despatched to the venue where he succeeded in identifying the ‘enemies’ as Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre and myself, and managed to overhear and note our entire conversation. This breach of privacy was then reported to the PM.
The fact is that much of the conversation comprised a briefing on behalf of a renowned couturier who I was representing and had introduced to Mrs Blair through another client. Mrs Blair was wearing one of my client’s dresses in Washington: the next day the Daily Mail gave flattering front-page prominence to the dress, its wearer and my client.
So why on earth the Downing Street subterfuge and why was a version of it worth publishing? Is it really credible that news of a meeting fixed at short notice by phone should have been picked up 300 miles away in Sedgefield? Surely Alastair’s influential friends could have found a more effective way of monitoring us had they so desired. I am also unclear of any legal or moral justification for such an intrusion, by whatever means, on a private professional conversation that took place within the law.
Whatever, Alastair’s strange yarn reinforces my view on both the virtue and the veracity of PR memoirs. I would, on the other hand, read a fuller version of it with fascination.
Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and was formerly a senior newspaper executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun