Last December, when Hugh Grant’s Porsche broke down in a remote section of Kent, England, the guy who happened to be driving by Paul McMullan, an ex-News of the World editor who covered Grant’s 1995 prostitution bust for the tabloid.
McMullan, who now runs a pub and inn in nearby Dover, offered Grant a ride, which Grant reluctantly accepted.
During the ride, McMullan -- one of the whistleblowers in the recent News of the World phone-hacking scandal -- chatted with Grant, one of the alleged victims, about the scandal, which broke a few months before. McMullan then snapped a photo with Grant, and unsurprisingly sold the story of his encounter to the Mail on Sunday, which published it a few days later.
On Wednesday, Grant got a measure of revenge.
The New Statesman magazine published a piece by Grant with his version of their chance meeting -- and in a cheeky, barely legal and borderline unethical twist, Grant secretly taped his conversation with McMullan, in which McMullan talked at length about the phone-hacking saga and tabloid tactics.
“It occurred to me just to interview him straight,” Grant wrote in the introduction. “But then I thought I might possibly get more, and it might be more fun, if I secretly taped him.”
In the published interview (entitled “The Bugger Bugged”) McMullan reveals all sorts of details that those interested in the phone-hacking story -- and the sordid inner-workings of tabloid journalism in general -- would be interested in.
>> Before the rise of encrypted mobile phones, staffers would sit outside Buckingham Palace "with a £59 scanner you bought at Argos and [record] Prince Charles and everything he said.”
>> According to McMullan, Rupert Murdoch was furious about putting Divine Brown, the prostitute Grant solicited, on the front page: "What are you putting that on our front page for? You're bringing down the tone of our papers."
>> McMullan was once sent to do a feature on “Moulin Rouge” at Cannes. “Basically my brief was to see who Nicole Kidman was shagging -- what she was doing, poking through her bins and get some stuff on her. So Murdoch's paying her five million quid to big up the French and at the same time paying me £5.50 to f--- her up ... So all hail the master. We're just pawns in his game. How perverse is that?”
>> McMullan claims he was paid £3,000 by the Mail on Sunday for his story and photo about Grant’s breakdown. "I ought to thank you for that," McMullan told him.
At one point, McMullan asks Grant, “You're not taping, are you?”
Grant: [slightly shrill voice] No.
The former adversaries apparently got along pretty well. “Absurdly, I felt a bit guilty for recording him,” Grant concluded.
Read Grant’s entire piece on McMullan here.