Who would have imagined when Lewis Carroll wrote Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland in 1865 that the Cheshire village of Daresbury where he lived would one day produce its own real-life Alice?
Her name was Rebekah Wade (now Brooks) and her tugboat-man father could have had no idea when his only child was born in 1968 that she would step — or rather schmooze — into a world of princes, prime ministers and proprietors, every bit as hazardous as Alice’s.
This was the media wonderland run by Rupert Murdoch, and until yesterday he made sure that no harm would come to the girl he has virtually treated as another daughter (he has four real daughters, from three marriages).
Asked for his priority when arriving in Britain on the day he shut the News of the World to handle the phone hacking and police-bribing scandals, he gestured at the smiling, ever-attendant Rebekah standing next to him and replied: ‘This one.’ So the grief and frustration felt by the 80-year-old mogul would have been immense yesterday as his cherished Rebekah bowed to the inevitable and resigned from her role as News International’s chief executive.
How different things might have been had she stepped down at the start of the crisis. It might have stopped the News of the World closing and hundreds working there from losing their jobs.
Yet Murdoch’s feelings of loss won’t be shared by the women in his family. Daughter Elisabeth, a year younger than Rebekah Brooks and almost as tough, is understood to have fulminated at her handling of the scandal, telling friends that Mrs Brooks had ‘f*****’ the company. And last month when Murdoch’s young and glamorous third wife Wendi failed to turn up at his summer party at London’s Kensington Gardens, friends murmured darkly that it was ‘because Rebekah will be there’.
But then observers believe Rebekah Brooks’s remarkably swift rise in the company was due not so much to her talents as a journalist but to her single-minded ruthlessness and her dazzling, feline ability to charm. ‘Rebekah schmoozes in one direction only — up,’ says one of her oldest acquaintances. ‘I don’t know anyone who is better at love-bombing, when it matters. I wouldn’t think Rupert stood a chance.’
She and Murdoch went for swims together, they sailed together. When a surprised colleague asked: ‘Who sails?’ she replied simply: ‘The Murdochs.’ She talked to Murdoch every day. When he walked into a room at a business or social gathering, she was at his side.
‘It’s always been obvious that he feels like a father figure to her,’ says one of his circle. At social functions she was his ‘part nurse, part protector,’ says one of the circle. ‘On one occasion, I even heard her asking him: “Have you taken your pills, Rupert?”’
‘She watches over him and makes sure he is comfortable with whoever he’s talking to; making sure his glass is filled. Rupert’s not young any more, and it was clear that the older he got the more he relied on her. She made herself indispensable.’
But then, being indispensable was her speciality — during her years as editor of the News of the World and The Sun, she made herself indispensable to Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron, in turn. She went to their parties and they certainly made sure they went to hers.
No one could say that Rebekah Brooks did not live up to a reputation which, frankly, scared even powerful men — not to mention the staff who remember her, as an editor, demanding they do ‘whatever it takes’ to bring in exclusive stories.
The following year she was dismayed to be passed over when the editorship changed hands, but in 2000 Murdoch gave her the editorship of the News of the World.
And finally, in 2003, she got the job she really wanted — editorship of The Sun. For the staff it was the start of much shouting and stress.
At the time she was married to EastEnders hard-man, actor Ross Kemp, and there was a curious episode when the couple apparently had a fight and she was arrested. When Murdoch heard she was in police cells, he arranged for a designer suit to be taken to her so that when she emerged in the morning, she would be looking her best for the inevitable cameras. That night he took her out to dinner.
He elevated her to chief executive in 2009, the year that she and Kemp were divorced. The same year she married former jockey and racing trainer Charlie Brooks.
Lewis Carroll’s fictional Alice woke up just before the queen’s command ‘Off with her head!’ could be carried out. Rebekah Brooks had no such lucky escape.
Mail Online, by Geoffrey Levy