Newspaper Gossip column

He had countless imitators but no equal and for 30 years reigned supreme as the Mail diarist. Here, we pay tribute to Nigel Dempster, a true legend of Fleet Street

He was feared and adored, a ferocious enemy who was also the embodiment of loyalty to his friends.

Four years ago, on his retirement from the Mail, it was simply farewell to Nigel Dempster.

Today, it is goodbye to the man who shook the foundations of the Establishment and made gossip columns front-page news.

Nigel's death after a long illness finally stills what was once the quickest mind and most abrasive tongue in Fleet Street.

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He practised his trade with a messianic glint in his eye as he set about deflating the egos of the idle rich and pricking the pomposity of the powerful.

"I am the greatest gossip in the world, " he would cry with character with characteristic modesty, raising his right arm high in mock self-salute.

And from glossy magazines all over the world, wide-eyed interviewers travelled thousands of miles to meet and profile this highoctane phenomenon.

Over 30 years he was the master journalistic showman, the most famous of his time - an immense achievement in an era when TV journalism was already offering instant celebrity to the mediocre.

No day was ever without excitement for Dempster. He loved the business of disclosure and never compromised on his commitment to unearthing the truth.

His revelations ("You read it here first") were never motivated by personal vendetta but to fulfil his belief that the public had a right to know.

"No one really cares what politicians say - they're all liars, cheats and fools, " he would declare, with open contempt.

"To know what they're really like and to understand what motivates them, voters have to know what's going on in their lives."

This wasn't spin. Nigel believed that people whose careers relied on public goodwill and who ladled out the news about themselves when it was good had no right to block publicity when it was bad.

There were gossip columns long before Dempster, of course, some of them very good; but none approached the task with his fervour, nor did they have the supreme advantage of his encyclopaedic memory.

At a party he would know who used to be married to whom, how they made their money, what schools they went to and - most importantly - who they were sleeping with.

Little wonder that when he arrived at a function, a frisson of discomfort would sweep the room.

The frequent criticism that gossip columns were "trivial" angered him.

"If the trade of the gossip columnist is trivial, then all of life is trivial, " he would retort.

"My job is to provide insights into the workings of those who are above us in terms of power and privilege, position and money."

Some might find a note of envy in this, but they would be wrong. After all, Nigel was as famous as any of the people he wrote about.

And as for money, his radio and TV work, in addition to his contract with the Daily Mail, enabled him to pursue with typical enthusiasm his love of horse racing.

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Popular Q&A

Gossip columns in the newspapers?

I thought they were the ones that speculate about celebrities and society people, with lots of nice pictures (I may be wrong!). They basically say a lot without saying anything (that they can get sued for!)..
I think it is probably to make you aware of all styles of writing, good and bad. I expect your tutor assumes you already read the news articles, they probably meant read the gossip columns as well
Just an idea..

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