You have to break some Greigs: The change in Daily Mail editor was about politics... but it was nothing to do with Westminster
Ted Verity is a company man schooled in the ways of Dacre but backing Boris Johnson's government isn't ultimately his call.
This is the second thing I’ve written today about changes at the top of The Daily Mail. You can read the first over at Byline Times — All change at The Mail: Political machinations or publishing priorities? — it’s a little heavier on sober analysis than this one and a lot lighter on jokes than this one…1
You can learn a lot from your parents by osmosis; I know a remarkable amount about life in the military and how to do sales, which I picked up from listening to mine. Geordie Greig, who will be the ex-editor of The Daily Mail by the end of play on Friday, comes from a family of courtiers. That means he was exposed to performances of top-level, pharmaceutical grade arse-kissing from an early age.
Though Greig, in the quotes released with the announcement of his “stepping down” and Ted Verity’s promotion from editor of the Mail on Sunday, talked about being “[the] most junior reporter on the graveyard shift” when he first joined the paper in 80s, he has never been an ordinary hack.
Nicholas Coleridge, Greig’s boss at Condé Nast, where he ran Tatler for 10 years between 1999 and 2009, called him “50% courtier, 50% old-school hack — and equally adept in both roles”. That’s a dangerous combination, like welding a shark to a cheetah, and Greig does appear to mix the ruthlessness of a hack with the polished smarm of the aristocrat.
I sort of stalked him… I twisted my way into getting access to him through a bit of deception, charm and kidnapping.
Greig has been editor of The Daily Mail since September 2018 when he replaced Paul Dacre in the role. Dacre relinquishing the editor’s chair after 26 years was, in some respects, like Alex Ferguson leaving Manchester United.
Dacre defined and dominated the modern Daily Mail. Greig is by no means the Mail’s David Moyes — a successor who simply flopped — as his three-years-and-change in charge of the paper were successful in terms of both sales awards. But Greig doesn’t have the unhinged aggression Dacre or his willingness to be hated.
Greig was also not willing to helm a 7-day operation — he really didn’t want to combine the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday teams with the job losses that will come with that… sorry, the ‘rationalisations’ — nor did he want to work under Richard Caccappolo, an American media exec based in New York and said to be close to MailOnline boss Martin Clarke, who will now be chief executive of the company’s media business.
There’s another fly in Greig’s expensive ointment too: The number of pictures of him and his Oxford contemporary Ghislaine Maxwell, currently preparing for her trial on sex trafficking charges, looking extremely cosy. In that 2019 interview with the Financial Times, Greig dismissed the photos tersely:
University. She was a year after me.
People cross your life — all sorts of people.
The pictures of Greig and Maxwell together do not date from their university days though. Head to Getty and you’ll find them pictured together at the launch of Breakfast with Lucian (alongside Piers Morgan) and at the 40th birthday of Annabel’s, the club that hosted Prince Andrew’s stag night.
Greig was also made to address his friendship with Prince Andrew in that FT interview. Asked by Henry Mance if the Prince “a friend the Mail has hammered over his links to sex offender Jeffrey Epstein” now hated him, Greig replied:
Absolutely not. I can tell you that categorically not… [on] pretty good authority.
There is no suggestion of inpropriety on Greig’s part in relation to the behaviour of either Prince Andrew or Ghislaine Maxwell and the allegations that surround them. However, that 2013 book launch came 7 years after Jeffrey Epstein’s first stint in jail; did someone as well-connected and switched on as Greig really not know who Maxwell was associating with?
Or did he think it was no big deal like another of his Oxford contemporaries, Rachel Johnson? She wrote in The Spectator diary this week — which is headlined It’s hard not to pity Ghislaine Maxwell and has a lede that reads “We met briefly at Oxford” — that:
It’s hard not to feel a batsqueak of pity for Ghislaine Maxwell — 500 days and counting in solitary confinement. I intersected briefly with her at Oxford. As a fresher I wandered into Balliol JCR one day in search of its subsidised breakfast granola-and-Nescafé offering and found a shiny glamazon with naughty eyes holding court astride a table, a high-heeled boot resting on my brother Boris’s thigh. She gave me a pitying glance but I did manage to snag an invite to her party in Headington Hill Hall — even though I wasn't in the same college as her and Boris. I have a memory of her father, Bob, coming out in a towelling robe and telling us all to go home.
“Bob”, the man in the bad dressing gown, was Robert Maxwell, the fraudster press baron who ‘fell’ off a yacht named after Ghislaine just before his pension scheme plundering came to light.
Of course, Greig — an Oxford educated, Old Etonian with royal connections — knows when to turn a blind eye to “inconvenient” facts, like your princely pal claiming he can’t sweat while leering over women in night clubs, or your boss (also a close friend) being a former KGB agent who has ‘interesting’ parties in Perugia. It’s this ‘discretion’ that means we can be certain that we have not seen the last of Geordie at the top of the British media.
Describing Greig’s successor in the metaphorically blood-splattered memo that announced the ouster, Lord Rothermere said, “Ted is a Mail journalist to his core and uniquely placed to oversee the next chapter of our newspapers.” That’s one of those lines that is meant as a compliment but sounds very much like an insult to a different audience. I’d have to wash in bleach were anyone to describe me as a Mail journalist to my core.
But it’s an accurate way to describe Edward “Ted” Verity2. Also Oxford educated — a contemporary of David Miliband no less — Verity has been with Associated Newspapers since 1990, putting in shifts as editor of the Irish Daily Mail and as a deputy to Dacre before replacing Greig as editor of the Mail on Sunday in 2018.
As I wrote in my Byline piece, people who have worked with and for him told me Verity is “a pleaser”, “astonishingly awful”, “keen to demonstrate how hard he is”, “a total nightmare”, “obsessed with waging a ‘war on woke’” and “old school”.
To shamelessly borrow a line from myself earlier today:
That Paul Dacre – a man whose morning briefings were described as “the vagina monologues” by Nick Davies in Flat Earth News due to his tendency to pepper them with the word “cunt” – was headmaster of that ‘school’ for 26 years should provide some idea of Verity’s training.
The bonus for you as a reader of this newsletter is that unlike Byline, you get the “cunt” unedited.3
When Verity took over the Mail on Sunday, he immediately set about reversing the ‘remainer’ line it had taken under Greig, gong full-steam ahead as a paper so ideologically committed to Brexit that it makes The Express seem reasonable.
He also ratched up the paper’s Islamophobic content; analysis by the Muslim Council of Britain published the year after Verity took the helm found The Mail on Sunday had the most negative coverage of Islam with 78% of its stories involving Muslims having negative themes (smashing an already horrendous industry average of 59%). This approach was mirrored by its attitude to Black Lives Matter and the toppling of statues.
Verity appears as beholden to his connections as Greig. Private Eye suggested that the Independent’s September 2021 exclusive on the racist, sexist and homophobic comments recorded during speeches made by Michael Gove in his twenties could have been broken by the Mail on Sunday three years earlier.
The journalist that broke the Gove story, Holly Bancroft, got her first break in Fleet Street at the Mail on Sunday and offered it the story. It was allegedly turned down because Verity — who is close to Gove and the Mail on Sunday’s ‘star’ columnist Sarah Vine — turned it down.
Another Private Eye story from November 2020 suggests that Verity will be easier on Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie. The allegation is that pictures of Carrie Symonds from her university days — they’re seemingly innocuous fancy dress snaps — were dropped from the Mail on Sunday front page.
They were allegedly spiked after a farcical series of event: A phone call from James Slack — an ex-Mail political editor who was Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson at the time and is now the Sun’s deputy editor — then an intervention from the Sun’s Political Editor and ex-boyfriend of Carrie Johnson, Harry Cole, followed by a call from the Prime Minister himself. Verity was on holiday but is still said to have stepped in to overrule the decision of his then deputies, Leaf Kalfayan and Dave Dillon, to run the photos.
I’ve also been told by several sources that Verity holds special animus for one of the paper’s sports journalists who he dimissed as “a woke cunt” and when told that the writer was working on a piece about women’s football responded: “Why the fuck would you be doing that?” In earlier years he decried Luke Harding who abadoned the Mail in favour of The Guardian in 2006 as “wet” because he did not enjoy the eye-poppingly aggressive newsroom environment.
But Verity does. One journalist who had to work with him on a piece in the past described it to me as “absolute hell”. Meanwhile former Times night editor, Katherine O’Donnell tweeted:
Many years ago I briefly worked with Ted Verity… I recall him as one of the most wretched and inadequate people I’ve ever met. And in Fleet Street journalism, that’s a high bar to clear.
In most other industries the fact that several people have used the word “psycopath” when describing Verity to me would be an issue. In the British media and The Daily Mail in particular, that’s almost a required bulletpoint on an editor’s CV. Greig — though creepy and morally blank in his own way — was simply not unhinged enough to be one of the all time classic Daily Mail editors.
Verity is said to have been the driving force behind the Mail refusing to back down in its court battle with the Duchess of Sussex, siding with Dacre — then still Editor-in-Chief — over Greig, who had argued for a settlement. The split in views there demonstrates the different characters at play. Greig, the cautious courtier, vs. Verity, the Dacre disciple.
The notion that Verity has been given the editor’s chair to ensure that Boris Johnson and his administration get an easy ride is wrong. Lord Rothermere and The Daily Mail see themselves as far more important, far more powerful, and far more enduring than any passing government.
Politics is not the biggest sales driver for The Mail titles though, like any proprietor, Rothermere likes to feel the weight of its influence. The reality is that Verity is a company man and will not flinch when wielding the axe to deliver the cuts that will come as The Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday operations are ‘rationalised’. In fact, he’ll probably enjoy it.
This one was also written while in the grip of a banging headache so any typos are clearly intentional.
Imagine a Victorian seaside ventriloquist’s dummy that looks like always one moment from biting the audience with its awful wooden teeth.
I’m led to believe that’s how some people who aren’t huge fans of me describe this newsletter: “The cunt, unedited.”