The Daily Mail’s parent trap: Shona Sibary is one of many Mail columnists selling out their own kids for clicks

Sibary's locked down in Dubai? Last time it was Dorset. And the perils of homeschooling? Last time it was calling out her teens for smoking...

Read to the end of today’s edition for reading, playing, and listening recommendations + this week’s most-read newsletters.

Andy Kaufman’s commitment to the bit was legendary. On Taxi, the show that made him a household name in the US, he secured a contract that, along with provisions for when and how his character Latka would appear, guaranteed guest spots for his friend Tony Clifton, the abusive and chaotic club singer. Only, Kaufman was Tony Clifton. He simply refused to admit that he and his most berserk creation were one and the same.

I raise the Kaufman/Clifton act because there are writers in The Daily Mail/Mail On Sunday/MailOnline stable who make that level of willingness to look like an asshole look amateur. Liz Jones, a woman can fillet and fabricate any aspect of her life for a column, is the grande dame of the gang.

When she joined the Mail in 2006, after a long stint as a fashion writer and editor, Jones embarked on a column that detailed every horrifying detail of her marriage to a younger man who she seemed to despise and who seemed equally disgusted with her ‘unusual’ ways.

Their 7-year relationship ended with divorce in 2007, but not before she had written at length about his habits (the terrible crime of leaving tea bags in the sink and his ‘dirtying’ of her white sofa among them) and all the times she hacked his emails or phoned him incessantly to find out what he was up to.

Jones made abundantly clear in print that she was far more successful than her husband — true, but perhaps not the best way to ensure marital harmony — and explained how she had ‘upgraded’ the diamond earrings he bought her because they were insufficiently grand.

Her marriage kaput, Jones swiftly moved on to new topics like disparaging her neighbours when she moved to Somerset, then getting lots of copy from the fact that she was now unpopular in the area after… writing all those horrible things about everyone else who lived there. She then moved to Yorkshire and did the same thing with the same results.

And, with her feckless husband far in the rear mirror, she found a new love interest to write about in her columns — the Rockstar — who, despite her heavily dropped hints, turned out not to Jim Kerr of Simple Minds. Others have followed — a successful relationship would make for bad and, crucially, boring copy.

Fifteen years after Jones began rooting around in her guts and presenting what she found for readers’ fascination and fury, she’s still at it. The latest instalment of her diary, published on 3 January 2021, begins:

I’m ignoring the Mystery Man whose last missive asked me what motorway junction I am off. Oh, I forgot to tell you his email before that one was, ‘I won’t be bringing Bolly [his joke name for me is Patsy] as I’ve stopped drinking and have to leave super early…’

You might have stopped drinking, but I haven’t!

But while Jones cranks out the ‘hits’, she’s very much the New York Dolls of narcissistic confessional Daily Mail columnists, usurped by Shona Sibary, the Sex Pistols of writing sensationalist shite.

One of Sibary’s advantages over Jones is having an entire family to flatten down into her column, including four children whose lives she lifts from with all the care of a kleptomaniac in an Amazon warehouse. After St. Jones the Baptist, Sibary is the Mail’s messiah of Me, Me, Me.

Her latest wheeze, exploiting husband Keith’s work in Dubai to ensure she and her youngest daughter can spend lockdown there while her teenage children fend for themselves, gained her a self-penned double-page spread in The Daily Mail and many more column inches in other papers which she is highly likely to parlay into yet another appearance on This Morning, where she will pretend she has no idea why her behaviour has wound people up. Rinse, repeat, profit.

As well as a now seemingly-abandoned parenting blog that paints her children in an increasingly unpleasant light, Sibary has spent years mining their experiences for the most controversial (and often cruel) angle possible. Back in 2014, she was ‘envious’ of her daughters’ beauty. In 2016, she was raging that they took her for granted.

… and by 2018, her youngest daughter was inducted into the family business with a mind-boggling column about how she had changed the child’s name three times — from Delphine to Dolly to Dorothy and back to Dolly again.

During the inevitable This Morning appearance she said, “When I go to the doctor’s surgery I can’t remember if it’s Dolly or Delphine. It’s confusing.” Poor Dolly was only 8 when her mother was putting her problems in public, by the way.

Sibary is merely a symptom of the system, however. The Daily Mail learned long ago that having cartoonish columnists that its readers can envy or be enraged by is good business. This particular parent trap — publishing mothers who are ‘honest’ about their children or do bizarre things for/to them — is just an evolution of that and an extension of the wider Mail mission to make every woman feel inadequate about themselves, mother or not.

One reason for that industrialised approach to fomenting inadequacy is because the Mail and its advertisers sell ‘solutions’ to its majority female readership. Producing every more problems to be solved is simply good business. Sibary simply understands her position in that system and how to exploit it. That the process involves exploiting her own children doesn’t matter to her really — they’re paying their way.

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Five other things you might enjoy:

  1. Central Sauce’s five-part series on MF Doom, the revelatory rapper who died at the end of 2020.

  2. Josh Gondelman’s long and winding piece about the semiotics of… Ben Affleck and Boston.

  3. ‘We intend to cause havoc’ — a Spotify playlist of 70s Zamrock (Zambian psych-rock) that I made while trying to distract myself from *gestures* all this.

  4. Monkeon’s Guess The Press quiz that asks you to guess what year a newspaper or music press front page came from (via last week’s b3ta newsletter).

  5. This Guardian piece finding out how sci-fi writers go about world-building.

This week’s three most-read newsletter editions:

  1. Bye Bye Barclay: Sir David Barclay is dead but the zombie Telegraph shambles on

  2. Are Q Kidd-ing me? The Daily Mail, the model's malcontent brother and a case of selective disgust

  3. "IPSO? Facts? No!": Covid 'Sceptic' and Dunning-Kruger effect spokesmodel Toby 'Toadmeister' Young will simply ignore censure and keep on talking shit