Friday, November 03, 2006

Cliff Richard: An Algarve revenge

Cliff Richard starts his umpteenth British tour this weekend. And I’ve now just discovered that he’s a blogger too – though only an occasional one. There’s a July entry, an October one (in which he tells us he’s relearning his songs) and he promises a post before Christmas. I think he can do better than this. Surely he can tap out a few lines once a week at least – his thoughts on Rowan Williams perhaps or the latest Quinta do Moinho wine from his commercial Algarve vineyard.

His July 13 entry is lively. He’s moaning about a story in the Mail on Sunday. He writes:

“This time, according to the press, my gardener, house-keeper and farmer [at his Portugal estate] were ‘on the edge of revolt’ and were about to hand in their notice. What did I find? The usual warm and friendly welcome from a staff who were totally baffled and angry at what they’d read. None of them had spoken to anyone from the press and had no idea where the notion had come from.

“What makes me especially angry is that, while I’ve accepted for years that I’m ‘fair game’, the press have no right to drag family, friends and employees into their distorted stories. I’ve complained to the Mail on Sunday but I’m not holding my breath waiting for an apology or correction!”

I assume the story was the one run on July 9 – a 2,000-word demolition job. Among other things it claimed that staff relations had deteriorated at the villa since the appointment of Cliff’s brother-in-law David Pilgrim as estate manager. His predecessor Michael Sargent, a “locally based expat”, had resigned. Since then “things had gone downhill.”

Behind these dark shifts stood the figure of Cliff’s general factotum and companion, ex-Roman Catholic priest Father John McElynn, described by one source in the story as a “meddling Svengali”. The story is so pro-Michael Sargent (it’s revealed for example that he saved Cliff £400,000 on the villa purchase price) that one can only suppose this was classic revenge journalism by someone at least sympathetic to him.

The gardener, the housekeeper and the farmer were allegedly threatening to quit over pay and conditions - the Mail's story did not claim that any one of them had spoken to the paper, contrary to Cliff's implication. One felt over-worked by Pilgrim, another was only on £3.50 an hour. Yet a close reading of their alleged complaints reveals a common theme: fury at Sargent’s departure. Lesson: don’t piss off your estate manager.

One’s inclined to think that Cliff never got an apology or correction from the paper because (for a change) here was a story not unadjacent to the truth.

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