LONDON: To a tabloid connoisseur the story had everything: celebrities, money, politics and more than a whiff of scandal.
It was, without doubt, the kind of tale that Rupert Murdoch, the famously hands-on proprietor of The Sun, would have wanted his newspaper to have had first. Apart from one small problem: the story was about him.
Today, what had been political gossip for some time, was splashed across the front page of The Mail on Sunday under the headline “Murdoch’s feud with Blair over Wendi”.
The paper reported that relations between Murdoch and Tony Blair had “collapsed” because of Blair’s close friendship with the media mogul’s ex-wife, Wendi Deng.
It claimed Blair and Ms Deng had stayed overnight at Murdoch’s mansion in California on two occasions in without his knowledge. And it added that Blair and Ms Deng had “multiple encounters” of which Murdoch was unaware in both London and New York.
While the paper stressed it was making “no suggestion” of any impropriety by the former prime minister or Ms Deng it nevertheless quoted a friend of Murdoch saying “Rupert Murdoch will have nothing more to do with Tony Blair. Not ever.”
If so, it would be a remarkable end to a remarkable friendship which, over the years, has had very real impact on the political process in the UK. And oddly one that also started with sexual innuendo. When Blair shrugged off criticism from his own party and travelled halfway around the world to woo Murdoch at a News Corporation summit in Australia in July 1995 the magnate introduced Blair to his staff with the words: “If the British press is to be believed, today is all part of a Blair-Murdoch flirtation.”
He then added: “If that flirtation is ever consummated, I suspect we will end up making love like two porcupines – very carefully.”
Over the years, much to the unease of many of the left, they were more passionate than that. The Sun backed Labour in every election campaign Blair fought – and while not always uncritical – his papers were none the less supportive of the New Labour project. Blair claimed, to some incredulity, when he gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry that when he was Prime Minister the relationship was always “professional” rather than a personal friendship. “It was a relationship about power,” he said. “I find these relationships are not personal; they are working [relationships], to me.” But he went on to add: “After I left office I got to know him. Now it’s different. It’s not the same.” He also admitted he had become godfather to Murdoch and Deng’s daughter Grace in 2010.
Blair’s friends told The Mail on Sunday that the relationship between him and Ms Deng was “entirely innocent and above board”. Blair’s office has also categorically denied an affair. A spokesman for Murdoch declined to comment, as did Ms Deng’s spokesman.
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