The charmer who ruled Murdoch’s media empire

The charmer who ruled Murdoch’s media empire
News Corporation CEO Rupert Murdoch with Rebekah Brooks, then Chief Executive of News International.

SHORTLY after realising her dreams at the tender age of 27 by being named deputy editor of Britain's News of the World, Ms Rebekah Wade had a wake-up call; a senior executive ordered her to sew the buttons back on his shirt for a golf outing.

She responded to that comedown by moving up. Little more than a decade later, she rocketed to the top of Mr Rupert Murdoch's News International media empire as its CEO. According to a CNN profile, the fate of that golfing executive is not known.

But, at age 46, everyone knows Rebekah Brooks, as she became known after marrying racehorse trainer turned author Charlie Brooks in 2009. She has become the stuff of the very kind of gossip that made Mr Murdoch's papers such money-spinners.

Indeed, gossip tabloids and respected newspapers the world over have been filled with tales of her exploits since she resigned and was then arrested in 2011 after a scandal hit Mr Murdoch's own murky tattle-tale world.

On Tuesday last week, a jury at London's Old Bailey court cleared her of a variety of charges involving the widespread hacking of voicemails on mobile phones carried out by journalists of the now-defunct News of the World, when she was its chief editor from 2000 to 2003.

"I feel vindicated by the unanimous verdicts," she told reporters on Thursday. "It has been a time of reflection for me. I have learnt some valuable lessons and hopefully I am the wiser for it."

While she did not respond to questions about her plans for the future, if her past is any indication, it is unlikely that is the last the world will hear of her.

Ms Brooks was born in the northern England town of Daresbury in Cheshire in 1968, and decided that she wanted to be a journalist when she was just 14 years old; she even went to work as a "tea girl", serving cuppas to the reporters on the local newspaper just to get a foot in the door.

After a stint with an architectural magazine in Paris in the early 1980s, she returned to Britain and worked for regional papers before landing a job at the top-selling tabloid News of the World.

There, her way of working a story - one that eventually came back to haunt her - was described by former boss Piers Morgan in his book The Insider: The Private Diaries Of A Scandalous Decade.

He writes that for an interview with Mr James Hewitt, a former British cavalry officer whom the late Princess Diana had admitted was one of her lovers, Ms Brooks booked a hotel suite and hired experts to "kit it out with secret tape devices in various flowerpots and cupboards".

Early on in her career, she also demonstrated an ability to charm even targets whom she was about to skewer.

Confronting a Conservative married MP, Mr Jerry Hayes, outside Parliament in 1997, she asked for his reaction to a News of the World expose the paper was about to run on him with the headline: "Tory MP 2-timed wife with under-age gay lover."

Although he admitted that the paper's story shattered him, a profile in The Guardian reported that Mr Hayes "found himself so charmed by the young redhead and the sympathetic manner in which she had delivered the news that he later phoned the News of the World to thank them for the way they had handled the story".

Thus, it was not surprising that a year later - when only 30 - she made the leap from deputy editor of the News of the World to its even bigger sister paper, The Sun, as its deputy editor.

Ms Brooks returned to the News of the World in 2000 triumphantly - as the youngest chief editor ever of a national newspaper in Britain, presiding over stories such as Prince Harry's admitted drug-taking and a controversial campaign to "out" sex offenders and predators sparked by the murder of eight-year-old Sarah Payne.

Three years later, she was back at The Sun - in its top job.

Mr Murdoch - who was so close to Ms Brooks that Britain's press labelled her his "fifth daughter" - named her the CEO of his News International media empire in 2009.

The key to that meteoric rise, according to The Guardian profile that quoted her friends and colleagues, is her "breathtaking networking abilities". One of those who knew her well, it wrote, called her a "galaxy-class schmoozer. World-class doesn't quite do it justice".

Ms Brooks did not settle for surrounding herself with ordinary celebrities, however. She counted no fewer than three prime ministers - Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and now David Cameron - as members of her inner circle.

During her trial, Ms Brooks denied coaxing her staff to hack into phones when she was the editor of News of the World. She did not deny a lurid episode of her own - an affair with her deputy editor who succeeded her as editor, Andy Coulson, while still married to her first husband.

Coulson was found guilty last week of conspiracy to hack into phones.

Competing newspapers relished that revelation, in the light of the Murdoch paper's long history of profiting by exposing the affairs of so many others.

As CNN noted, The Independent ran the story under the headline "The affair they didn't expose".

This article was first published on June 30, 2014.
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