’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
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
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
Reporter, Western Times
Diarist, Nigel Dempster column, Daily Mail
Mandrake, The Sunday Telegraph