Greig's sausage-making role: The Daily Mail's editor claims his readers are kind so why is his paper so cruel?

Geordie Greig, the editor of The Daily Mail, is 60 years old but he has the ruddy red cheeks and smooth complexion of a Victorian ventriloquist’s dummy cursed to do the bidding of the Rothermere family.

When he replaced Paul Dacre, an ogre with shoes, Greig was sold as a reset for the paper, a voice of reason brought in to make the Mail seem less like the spittle-flecked racist at the dinner party.

That was, of course, a lie but then liberals are generally afflicted with a disorder where they can detect tone but not content so the fact that Greig acts like a cunt but doesn’t call everyone around him one is considered a huge step up.

After I wrote last week about Dan Wootton — the worst person in British journalism — a former News UK employee messaged me privately to say that it was “brave”. While I appreciate the compliment, I don’t consider sitting alone at my desk at oh-fuck-it’s-early every morning and writing about the worst excesses of the British press ‘brave’. No one has tried to shoot me… yet.

But whenever I hit the keyboard to come for The Daily Mail there is some small part of me that worries. It’s like tweaking a dragon’s tail or telling the mafia that all that pasta is making them fat. Oh well…

In a brief interview with Press Gazette last week — Greig only grants rare and short audiences like some kind of press potentate — the Mail editor talked up his papers ongoing ‘Computers for Kids’ campaign (which gets multiple pages in every issue at the moment), said the paper is a “force for good”, and claimed:

Daily Mail readers are ordinary people with extraordinary lives. They are people you sit next to on the Tube, on the aeroplane, at the bus stop – it’s the biggest newspaper readership in Britain and they are the bedrock of middle Britain. When they get behind something and feel there’s an injustice, they really support us.

I think the Daily Mail reader is the most generous reader that there is.”

As someone who, for professional reasons, often has recourse to read the Daily Mail’s Letters page, I can confirm that’s high-grade horseshit. While Mail readers will get dewy-eyed over animal pictures and dust off their cheque books for charity campaigns, they are offered a diet of anger, misery, and spite by their paper of choice on a daily basis. A Mail reader is never happier than when railing at someone they suspect has got something they didn’t deserve.

Dominic Ponsford’s Press Gazette piece rather understated Greig’s background:

“Oxford and Eton-educated Greig is more upper class than the typical Mail reader. But he came up through the news industry the traditional way, starting on newspapers in South East London before bagging shifts on the Daily Mail.”

Yes. That’s true but it rather ignores the aristocratic elephant in the room; Greig is the son of Sir Henry Louis Carron Greig, a landowner and courtier to the Queen, and Monica Stourton, the granddaughter of 24th Lord Mowbray, Segrave and Stourton. On his father’s side, family members have been closely associated with the Royal Family for over 30 years — Greig’s sister Laura was a lady-in-waiting to Diana, Princess of Wales.

It’s no surprise then that Greig spent a decade as the editor of Tatler the aristocracy’s favourite fanzine — after stints at The Sunday Times as its arts correspondent, US correspondent, and Literary Editor. His next step, in 2009, was to become editor of The Evening Standard, having networked himself into the good graces of its proprietor, the not-at-all shady or narcissistic Evgeny Lebedev (now ludicrously-styled Baron Lebedev, of Hampton in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and of Siberia in the Russian Federation).

When Greig took up The Evening Standard job, his boss at Condé Nast, Tatler’s parent company, the similarly Eton and Cambridge-educated Nicholas Coleridge  said of him:

"He is the world's greatest networker. "He networks in numerous different sectors simultaneously – the arts, society, and a little bit of politics. He's enormous fun, he's very honourable and I think it's very clever of them to get him. He's a very rounded person. He's not a workaholic but he gets a lot done. He looks a little like Tintin and he shares with Tintin a resourcefulness. And he's a Londoner. He started off on a local newspaper, and he's always liked that credential."

There is, as they say, a lot to unpack there. “Great networker” is, of course, the admiring way of saying someone is extremely good at kissing arses and Greig is so talented at it that I’m surprised he doesn’t have permanently chapped lips. As for the Tintin comparison, I think it’s grotesquely unfair: Snowy would never have allowed the boy reporter to work for the Mail.

Greig ‘liking the credential’ of having started off on a local newspaper reminds me of the recent reports on that survey about middle-class people wanting to frame themselves as working class. Greig didn’t have to climb his way up through the local press and you might give him credit for that, but it was a ‘Common People’ job; he could have called his father and stopped it all.

Andrew Neil, his boss at The Sunday Times, recalled in the same Guardian profile that Greig, then assigned to New York, assembled a dinner which he attended where the other guests were Henry Kissinger, Peggy Noonan, Peter Jennings and “some supermodel”. Yes, get yourself a man who can do both — suck up to models and notorious war criminals.

Neil said of Greig:

"He knew everybody and people liked him and returned his calls and he didn't just recycle the New York Times. People turned up for Geordie. But He can be tough when he needs to be."

I have no doubt of that; no one has sharper nails than a British socialite.

At Tatler Greig worked to fill out the magazine’s bubblehead with some intellectual cred. He hired Tom Wolfe as a contributing editor and published pieces by VS Naipaul, Salman Rushdie and Harold Pinter which were quickly skipped over by its reader desperate to know about which horse-faced aristo had married some other monied mediocrity, and who wore which hat while they were doing it.

Greig succeeded at The Evening Standard, taking it from a paid daily sale of 100,000 to a free circulation of 700,000 and dragging in into profit from what had been an annual £30 million loss. After three years he jumped ship to The Mail on Sunday and began looking over Paul Dacre’s chip-laden shoulder at the bigger prize — the editorship of The Daily Mail — and positioned the paper as pro-European versus the daily’s fervent pro-Brexit stance.

After six years on the Sunday paper, Greig’s through and sloppy ‘networking’ of Lord Rothermere, secured him the role of Daily Mail editor and Paul Dacre was bumped upstairs to the grandiose but meaningless role of ‘Chairman and Editor in Chief of Associated Newspapers’.

When Greig deigned to be interviewed for The Financial Times’ Lunch with the FT’ feature Dacre emerged from his cave to grumble in a letter to the FT that:

“Admirable chap he may be, but Geordie Greig, in his Lunch with the FT (October 5) is as economic with the actualité as your paper is in reports matters Brexit.

He claims 265 advertisers came back to the Daily Mail in his year as editor. In fact, far more than that number left during the same period.

… your writer’s ludicrous caricature of the Mail before I stepped aside at 70 after 26 years in the chair, is unrecognisable from the paper that in those years increased its circulation by nearly a million in a contracting market and made billions in profits.

… As for Mr Greig, I congratulate him for making a solid start as editor… but I’m sure that he’ll forgive me for suggesting that he (or his PR) defers his next lunch with the FT until he has notched up a small fraction of those journalists’ achievements.”

Dacre’s letter was the Fleet Street equivalent of a head butt. For those not fluent in bullshit, the line ‘economic with the actualité” means “you’re a goddamn liar” in boring pub bastard. Greig is well-liked among executives at DMG though — all that ‘networking’ — so Dacre’s letter went down like a bag of flaming shit on the doorstep and did more damage to its writer than its subject.

In the Lunch with the FT piece, Greig said he wanted to overtake The Sun as Britain’s best-selling newspaper. In June 2020, The Daily Mail achieve that and Greig called it “a historic moment”. The Sun had held the top spot since 1978.

While Ponsford’s interview puts a bit emphasis on Greig changing The Daily Mail’s tone on Europe (“…breaking with the hard Brexiteers and instead of supporting compromise with the EU”), Dacre needn’t have worried about the paper going soft on his other enemies — celebrities, immigrants, ‘the left’, the wrong type of rich people, journalists at other papers… Under Greig, the Mail is as spiteful and malicious as it ever was under Dacre.

Dacre was renowned for this ‘double cunting’ technique, as described by Andrew O’Hagan in The London Review of Books:

You call that a good cunting headline, you cunt?’ might be a typical start to the afternoon. ‘Dacre would call us a “load of cunts”,’ the former Mail crime reporter Tim Miles told Adrian Addison, ‘or a “shower of cunts”. It was always “cunt this” and “cunt that”. He did like the word cunt.’

Greig avoids the ‘double cunting approach’ but is no less cutting or cruel. He just delivers his paper’s poison more delicately. If Dacre was a battleaxe, Greig is a stiletto slipped between the ribs.

He told Ponsford:

The Daily Mail remains and always will have a potent focus on covering the news, putting light on things we think are not right and representing our readers who are the bedrock of middle Britain. We are always thinking of the reader and bringing a force and a focus and an energy and never being dull.

He’s right, The Daily Mail is never dull, but you might describe the experience of being pursued by a cloud of hornets in the same way. Anyone who thinks or does something outside of the narrow pseudo-Victorian, rich people-loving, patronising and petulant position taken by the Mail gets stung. That it’s Geordie Greig directing the swarm rather than Paul Dacre hasn’t changed that.