LONDON May 15 Rebekah Brooks rose from
secretary to chief executive of Rupert Murdoch's British
newspaper group, but the woman who once partied with prime
ministers now faces criminal charges and possible prison time.
Entering a London police station on Tuesday to be told she
was charged with hiding evidence from police investigating
phone-hacking by some of her reporters, Brooks was beset by
cameramen and photographers eager to capture every detail of her
dramatic fall from grace.
Instantly recognisable with her long mane of red curls,
Brooks, 43, has rarely been out of the news since the
phone-hacking scandal exploded last summer, forcing Murdoch to
hastily shut down the News of the World newspaper she used to
An intensely private woman who splashed intimate details of
other people's lives on the front pages of her newspapers,
Brooks was forced out into the full glare of the world's media
last Friday for a day of televised grilling.
Testifying at the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics, which
was set up as a result of the News of the World saga, Brooks
displayed both the charm and the steel that beguiled the great
and the good of British media and politics for so long.
Out of the many powerful people Brooks befriended during her
stellar career, Murdoch was the one who made the biggest impact
on her life. Her close friendship with the News Corp tycoon gave
her entree in the most exclusive circles and he repaid her
loyalty and friendship with one huge promotion after another.
After rising in just 11 years from secretary to editor of
the News of the World in 2000, aged 31, Brooks became the first
woman editor of the Sun in 2003. In 2009, Murdoch made her CEO
of News International, his British newspaper group.
Confronted by a crowd of reporters and asked what was his
top priority as he flew into London last July to take charge of
the hacking crisis, Murdoch put his arm around Brooks and
answered: "This one".
People who know Brooks are not surprised by her ability to
inspire such loyalty from the tough-talking media mogul.
"She's sinuous and clever and probably the most brilliant
networker I've ever met," said veteran media commentator Roy
Greenslade, a former News International journalist who has known
Brooks for many years.
Brooks was not able to counter a general long-term fall in
newspaper circulation, but she was respected by colleagues and
her emphasis on celebrity-focussed stories pleased readers.
Unlike Murdoch, who used his own appearance at Leveson in
April to stick the knife into former allies who have turned on
him, Brooks smiled and blushed and sought to avoid answering
questions that would embarrass the friends in high places who
are now keeping their distance.
It was only after a clear order from the judge presiding
over the inquiry that she reluctantly revealed that Prime
Minister David Cameron used to sign off his frequent text
messages to her with an affectionate "LOL - lots of love".
But when she was pressed over some of the controversial
stories she ran during her time as editor of the Sun, Britain's
most widely read newspaper, Brooks grew visibly irritated and
turned the tables on the lawyer who was questioning her.
"We're not in a tabloid newsroom now, we're at an inquiry,"
she chided him. She went on to complain that many of the
questions concerned "gossipy" stories that had appeared in the
media about her and said that if she were "a grumpy old man"
nobody would write a word about these matters.
There was little sympathy for Brooks among the many people
who suffered maulings by the Murdoch press during her years as
editor and chief executive.
"The sudden transformation of Mrs Brooks from a high-powered
friend of the mighty to an injured young woman just doesn't
wash," said Clare Short, a former minister under Labour Prime
Minister Tony Blair who once fell foul of Brooks's Sun.
Short had complained about the topless models on Page 3 of
the newspaper, a daily feature introduced by Murdoch in 1970.
The Sun retaliated with a crudely doctored image of Short's head
set on an overweight woman's body, under the headline: "Fat,
jealous Clare brands Page 3 porn". The Sun also dispatched a
busload of the topless models to Short's home.
"She used her papers to humiliate and viciously attack
women, and her femininity to get close to powerful men. She
experienced much less hurtful gossip than she dished out," Short
told Reuters on Tuesday.
Former employees describe her as "one of the lads" who
fitted into the macho culture of the tabloids by swearing in the
newsroom and drinking in the pub with colleagues - while making
it very clear who was boss.
"At first, I wondered who was this person flouncing around
the office with big red hair like she owned the place. I soon
found out," said one ex-Sun reporter.
As News of the World editor, she caused controversy with a
campaign to "name and shame" child sex offenders that resulted
in a mob attacking a paediatrician mistaken for a paedophile.
It was under her editorship that an investigator working for
the News of the World hacked into the voicemail of missing
schoolgirl Milly Dowler, later found murdered. That was the
incident which, when made public, opened the floodgates of
revelations that led to the demise of the News of the World and
the setting up of the Leveson Inquiry.
Brooks says she did not know about the hacking, but on
Tuesday she was charged with hiding documents and computers from
the police and conspiring to remove records from Murdoch's
Her second husband Charlie, a racehorse trainer and a
contemporary of Cameron at Eton College, an exclusive private
school, was also charged, for allegedly assisting the cover-up.
It was a shocking turn of events for the couple, who had
previously enjoyed a charmed life. Their 2009 wedding at a
sprawling countryside estate brought together the Murdoch
family, Cameron, then in opposition, and then Prime Minister
Gordon Brown and his wife Sarah.
It was a measure of Rebekah Brooks's power that the Browns
attended the event, given their dismay at her decision three
years earlier to splash news of their four-month-old baby's
cystic fibrosis diagnosis on the front page of the Sun.
The wedding, which despite its celebrity guest list received
no media coverage, was also an example of Brooks' remarkable
ability to maintain her privacy despite her high profile.
The birth of her daughter Scarlett by a surrogate mother in
January was marked only by an official statement and photograph.
A rare exception was a 2005 incident when Brooks, then known
by her maiden name Rebekah Wade, was arrested for allegedly
assaulting her then husband Ross Kemp, an actor in the popular
TV soap opera Eastenders. Rival newspapers gleefully noted that
the arrest came while the Sun was running a campaign against
Released with no further action taken, Brooks reportedly
went straight to work after her overnight stay in the cells,
wearing a designer suit that Rupert Murdoch had sent to the
"She wouldn't bring her personal life into the office," says
a former News of the World reporter.
"She wouldn't come in and say: 'Ross and I have had a
terrible row,' like some women might. She was more likely to
come in and say: 'Where the hell is that page you promised me?'"