YOU know you’ve been around for a while when you can remember the new editor of the Daily Mail as a trainee.
Geordie Greig arrived all young, fresh-faced and ineffably posh. He didn’t stay long, but he had a brilliant career to be getting on with.
He was an unlikely character for Deptford High Street, where you didn’t in those days bump into many Old Etonians.
The editor, Roger Norman, took a shine to him, and he must have had a good eye. He took a shine to me too, after he placed a job advert written in Chas and Dave language – “Gertcha is a good old Cockney word now sweeping the country…” or something like that – and I replied in Cockney-speak.
Norman’s faith in Greig was extravagantly fulfilled; his faith in me less so. I’d written the best job application letter he’d ever seen, he later told me. Being able to turn my hand to a quick bit of writing got me where I am today; exactly where that might be is something I am still trying to figure out.
Anyway, Geordie Greig was charming back in the mid-1980s. He got stuck into the job, chatting to old Deptford characters like a visitor from a distant planet, which of course he was.
I’ve charted his rise from my chair in the cheap seats. According to this morning’s Guardian, Greig joined the South East London Mercury – not, as they report, the Kentish Mercury – after Oxford, having turned down a career in banking.
The next bit is new to me… “At the same time his sister was working as a lady-in-waiting for Princess Diana, meaning Greig would go from interviewing south London gang leaders over lunch to tea with royalty.”
A spot of colourful elaboration going on there, as we didn’t interview that many gang leaders, but it’s a good tale.
The office was next to the station and you could see the platform from your desk. Greig wandered fresh-faced into this land of cigar smoke and afternoon beer fumes, and got on with reporting.
After we both left, I kept an envious eye on his rise: culture reporter for the Sunday Times, editor of Tatler, editor of the Evening Standard, then editor of Mail on Sunday. Never mind the editing jobs, but that stint on the Sunday Times would have suited me.
Now Greig is to replace Paul Dacre, who is either a brilliant editor or a right-wing ogre, depending on opinion. I guess a fair-minded person would say he is a bit of both, although having a heavy hand with the poison bottle.
Much comment on Greig’s latest elevation centres on his differences with Dacre: Greig is a Remainer while Dacre is the Brexiteer in chief.
Some commentators believe Dacre caused Brexit by tipping the balance in the referendum. Somewhere in on the dusty recesses of this blog you will discover my argument that Dacre’s feud with David Cameron led him to go all out for Brexit.
This morning’s Mail has the usual pro-Brexit headline: “Hammond gets both barrels from Boris.” Will the paper’s position change under Greig; and, if so, could that make life even more difficult for Mrs Maybe?
It is also reported that Greig’s elevation is in part down to his friendship with Lady Rothermere, the proprietor’s wife. Belonging to the upper-class club has clearly done him many favours. But you don’t get by on those advantages alone, so he must have something else going for him.
An old profile in the Guardian quotes his former boss at Conde Nast, Nicholas Coleridge, describing him as “50% courtier, 50% old-school hack”.
Geordie Greig arrived in Deptford fully laden with the first quality; I like to think he picked up the second on the south London beat.
As for those gang bosses, I suspect he spent more time talking to Father Diamond at St Paul’s, the surprisingly fine Baroque church tucked just off the high street.