News, Culture & Society

Sexual predator Max Clifford ‘shameless to the end’

Max Clifford, who died after collapsing in his jail cell

A few days before the 2012 arrest that began his squalid fall from grace, Max Clifford was asked to address the Oxford Union.

Billed as one of the ‘people who shape our world’, he chose to sum himself up thus: ‘Every day, every week, every month, a lot of the lies that you see in the newspapers, in the magazines, on television, on the radio, are mine.’

It was a typically shameless boast from a publicist who never seemed even remotely embarrassed to have achieved fame and fortune by creating and then selling fake news stories, from Freddie Starr eating that hamster to David Mellor making love to Antonia de Sancha in a Chelsea strip.

‘I was always instinctively good at lying,’ he explained, adding in a characteristic attempt at self-justification that ‘as long as your distortion of the truth isn’t harming anyone, it’s fine’.

People who suffered collateral damage from the sleazy falsehoods he traded in for more than four decades would perhaps disagree, as might victims of some of the less edifying individuals to appear on his PR firm’s roster, such as (to offer just one example) the racist thugs who murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

But Max Clifford, who died in hospital yesterday at the age of 74, after collapsing in jail and suffering a heart attack on Friday, is unlikely to have cared.

Because for all the shabby ‘kiss-and-tell’ yarns he sold, and despite the endless stories he fabricated to advance the interests of favoured clients, the person he spent his life telling the biggest and most flagrant lies about was himself.

A relentless self-publicist and gifted networker — who charmed such clients as Simon Cowell, former Harrods owner Mohamed Al Fayed and boxer Muhammad Ali — he used his tireless charity work to cultivate a veneer of respectability.

Yet, as with Jimmy Savile, the charitable public persona was cynically used to mask a slew of ugly personal secrets.

He was, after all, the supposedly devoted husband who in fact cheated repeatedly on his first wife Liz, even as she lay dying of cancer, and who was caught by his second wife (his former PA, Jo) having ‘explicit’ phone sex with another woman while supposedly on honeymoon.

Clifford was also the ‘loving’ father who spoke movingly of having to carry his disabled daughter Louise to bed throughout her childhood, yet saw nothing untoward in keeping bin-bags full of pornography at the family home, or forcing her to help cover up his sexual indiscretions.

Most of all, of course, Clifford was the sleaze-monger who delighted in exposing the peccadilloes of the rich and famous — brokering deals on behalf of everyone from secretary Tracey Temple (who had a fling with John Prescott) to glamour model Rebecca Loos (David Beckham), nanny Daisy Wright (Jude Law) and model Imogen Thomas (alleged affair with footballer Ryan Giggs) — while using power and influence to keep his own rackety sex life secret.

So it goes that he will be ultimately be remembered as the man who piously represented the victims of paedophiles Jonathan King and Gary Glitter, only to himself prey on a string of highly vulnerable young women in the most seedy manner imaginable.

Clifford’s revolting exploitation of victims was laid bare in forensic detail during a nine-week trial at Southwark Crown Court in 2014, where the then 71-year-old PR man was found guilty of eight historic sex offences against four victims aged between 15 and 19 at the time.

Max Clifford is shown in his office in London, November 25, 1999. Clifford was notorious as the publicist who turned tittle-tattle into tabloid cash

Max Clifford is shown in his office in London, November 25, 1999. Clifford was notorious as the publicist who turned tittle-tattle into tabloid cash

During his showbusiness career, he’d pressured a string of schoolgirls and young models into performing sex acts by telling them they could win parts in films, molesting them in eerily similar fashion in his Bond Street office, or in the yellow Jaguar he drove in the 1970s and early 1980s.

The girls were strung along via a web of mendacity, in which he would pretend to make phone calls to famous film producers such as Dynasty creator Aaron Spelling or James Bond producer Cubby Broccoli. Then he used a mixture of lies and intimidation to ensure they never blew the whistle on the abuse, threatening that ‘no one will believe you’.

Some were so traumatised that they became suicidal, including a victim who spoke to the Mail yesterday under the pseudonym Cathy Johnson. After meeting Clifford on a family holiday, she was invited to his office to discuss modelling and acting opportunities.

He forced her to strip, then charmed her parents into letting him drive her around London, where he would stop in dark alleys and force her to perform sex acts.

To ensure her silence, Clifford told her that a photographer had hidden in a bush and obtained images of one of their trysts ‘so close he could see your freckles’. Provided the affair never became public, he told her he’d be able to keep the images from entering the public domain.

‘I hope that while Mr Clifford was in prison, he had the time to reflect on the crimes he committed against me and numerous others, and began to realise the impact of his heinous assaults,’ Cathy, now 55, said yesterday.

‘In the last few years he must have been very tormented.’

Another woman, Sharon Elliott, waived her right to anonymity to tell the court how Clifford had offered her the chance to be a movie star, before leading her into a lavatory cubicle at a nightclub and forcing her to perform a sex act.

A third young woman was subjected to an attempted assault after being told to strip to her underwear so Clifford could take photos that would — he claimed — be sent to movie star Charles Bronson, who would consider casting her in a film.

The fourth was subjected to an attempted assault in Clifford’s office, before being told that she would get a part in the next Bond film provided she agreed to sleep with Broccoli.

The judge, who sentenced Clifford to eight years, added that he believed the account of a further six women who the prosecution used as supporting witnesses at the trial.

They were among 23 women who had originally approached police (prosecutors proceeded only with what they believed to be the strongest seven cases). One alleged victim, whose case could not be tried because the alleged offence took place overseas, claimed to have been sexually abused in a Jacuzzi during a family holiday in Spain in 1983, when she was just 12. Police believe there were dozens more.

Despite the seriousness of the evidence, Clifford displayed extraordinary arrogance throughout the trial. At one point, he was filmed clowning around behind a Sky TV reporter who was discussing the case on the courtroom steps.

Another time, after a gruelling morning in which he’d been grilled about molesting ‘naïve’ teenage girls, he strode into a room full of newspaper reporters and said to two women sitting in a corner: ‘Are any of you girls free tonight?’

Max Clifford arrives to be sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on May 2, 2014 in London, England

Max Clifford arrives to be sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on May 2, 2014 in London, England

Shamefully, part of his defence was that he’d enjoyed so much sex — cheating on first wife Liz whom he married aged 23, and was with until her death from cancer in 2003 — with multiple mistresses during the time of the alleged crimes that he had no need to abuse anyone.

The braggadocio continued to the end. He never once displayed contrition or apologised to any of his victims, choosing instead to attempt to overturn his criminal conviction on appeal.

One bid was chucked out in November 2014. Another was being pursued at the time of his death. (Last night, his daughter Louise insisted she would continue the fight to clear his name.)

Victim Jill Appleyard — who alleged Clifford molested her in her school uniform in 1966 after luring her into his car from a Wimpy burger bar — said yesterday:

‘The whole point is that you want someone to say sorry for upsetting you as a young girl, but he was so arrogant to the end and didn’t ever, ever admit [his crimes] and that’s frustrating, as it’s making you out as a liar. We weren’t.’

In truth, Maxwell Frank Clifford never really ‘did’ humility.

Born in Surrey in 1943, the youngest child of an electrician who gambled away the family money, he left school at 15 and stumbled into showbusiness as a trainee reporter on the Merton & Morden Times newspaper, for which he also wrote a music column.

At weekends, he ran a disco above a pub, which received rave reviews — in his own column — and made pocket money screening pornographic movies at the same venue on different nights.

His pop column led to a job in the press office of record label EMI in 1962 where, he later claimed, he helped launch an unknown band called The Beatles.

However, Beatles biographer Hunter Davies isn’t so sure. ‘I have about 500 Beatles books, plus about 2,000 magazines, programmes and articles about The Beatles, yet I have not read one reference to Mr Clifford’s contribution,’ he once told this newspaper.

After EMI, Clifford had a brief spell at a PR company run by music journalist Chris Hutchins, only to be fired when his boss caught him showing photographs to a secretary.

‘They were hardcore pornographic photos of the worst kind, that Max had apparently taken himself,’ recalled a colleague.

In 1970, he started his own firm, Max Clifford Associates, hiring offices in London’s West End and filling them with young girls who he would call ‘Max’s Angels’.

Early clients included some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, from Frank Sinatra to Marlon Brando and Muhammad Ali. Soon, he began to rewrite the rules of PR, not only providing stories to newspapers, but making up key details to maximise their value. According to his autobiography, he attended orgies with sex siren Diana Dors and was later the ‘ringmaster’ of his own ‘good honest filth’ parties attended by public figures.

They were among the celebrities said to feature in a ‘little brown book’ filled with damaging allegations which he used to intimidate his showbusiness associates.

By the 1980s, he was carving a niche as the go-to-guy for women wishing to sell a tale about their flings with famous or influential men, typically agreeing (for a cut usually thought to be around 25 per cent) to auction their tales to Sunday newspapers.

Max Clifford in a pink shirt sits on a sun lounger near the pool of his Marbella apartment

Max Clifford in a pink shirt sits on a sun lounger near the pool of his Marbella apartment

A lifelong Labour supporter, who despite his millionaire lifestyle would often claim in interviews to be a ‘socialist’, he helped bring down a slew of sleazy Tory MPs, representing ‘Commons Call Girl’ Pamella Bordes, who dished the dirt on Minister for Sport Colin Moynihan in 1989, to the aforementioned Antonia de Sancha, who did for National Heritage minister David Mellor in 1992, and the wife of a South African judge and her two daughters — nicknamed ‘The Coven’ — who slept with former Tory minister Alan Clark.

Clifford also cut a lucrative sideline helping celebrities to pay off lap-dancers and escorts who might otherwise be tempted to talk to the Press. After these (mostly) young women received their money, they could find themselves being watched and photographed on their doorsteps by heavies who would ‘politely’ remind them to keep their mouths shut.

The trade was hugely profitable, and in his heyday, Clifford was rumoured to be earning £2.5 million a year. He drove a silver Rolls Royce, with the number-plate ‘100 MAX’ and lived between a £3 million house in the Surrey stockbroker belt, a Cotswolds cottage and a home in Marbella.

From offices off Oxford Street he represented a virtual Who’s Who of British celebrity, high and low brow, from late reality TV star Jade Goody to singer Kerry Katona and pop managers Louis Walsh and Simon Cowell, who once said that ‘hiring Max Clifford’ was the best career decision of his life.

Clifford liked to think these connections made him untouchable, and before he appeared in court, promised that his famous friends would loyally appear as character witnesses.

But in the event, they failed to materialise — the best he could do was actress Pauline Quirke and TV host Des O’Connor. Yesterday, not a single celebrity bothered to give Clifford a warm testimonial.

The man who devoted his career to the public humiliation of public figures died with his own reputation firmly in the gutter.

Additional reporting: Emine Sinmaz and Tim Lamden