Postcard from London: everyone loves a love rat
There’s two words the British press love above all others. Two little words. One phrase. Love Rat.
Fleet Street hacks – most of who look a bit like the latter and don’t get enough of the former – have been frothing for nearly a fortnight over the England football captain’s affair with a teammate’s partner.
There have been more than 2,000 newspaper stories about the John Terry sex scandal - 500 more than those that mentioned the Prime Minister Gordon Brown. A Google search of John Terry + love rat brings up more than 4,300 results. It would seem like overkill but to be fair to the easily-titillated British public, the story has absolutely had it all.
A betrayed wife, a betrayed friend, team mates taking sides, an attempted cover up, sleazy PR men, former lovers selling their stories, the country’s most important team in turmoil, a captaincy lost and a French seductress. The bloody French! No wonder the Brits are enthralled.
It would take the Queen being caught dogging in St James’s park to top this tale.
It started like all good tabloid stories do – in the courts.
Terry, who had been sleeping for four months with the former partner of England and former Chelsea team mate Wayne Bridge, had been rumbled by The News of the World and was desperately trying to get a super-injunction to stop the newspaper or any other exposing his cheating.
Contrary to what you might think, Fleet Street is regularly gagged by the courts here on behalf of the rich and famous. Last month The Sun was prevented from printing pictures of Premier League football manager Avram Grant leaving a Portsmouth brothel where he had enjoyed “a Thai massage”.
But in another landmark in the John Terry story, a senior judge decided enough was enough and the £130,000-a-week footballer could not hide behind his slick legal team. The decision has set a liberating precedent and the Avram Grant story duly followed but that was a mere sideshow to the Terry bombshell.
An easily outraged press and public were outraged. From Shakespeare to East Enders, they love a good drama here.
Toni Poole, the footballer’s childhood sweetheart from working class Dagenham in East London took the kids and fled to Dubai pursued by journalists. The “heartbroken wife” has been photographed ever since in her bikini by the pool of a five-star hotel.
Back in London attention was on the mistress, Vanessa Perroncel, a French lingerie model who has a three year-old boy with Bridge.
Would she sell her story to a Sunday newspaper? We all hoped so. Right on cue, PR guru and story broker Max Clifford got hold of Perroncel and the estimated figure for her story blew past £300,000 ($530,000).
But four days was far too long to wait. We needed to know who this sultry brunette with the Gallic double-D’s was right now.
When the answer came it couldn’t have been scripted better if it was an episode of Footballer’s Wives.
Perroncel, it turns out, was a wannabe WAG who chose her place of work and planned her social life around meeting footballers. At last count she is known to have slept with five members of the 2004 league-winning Chelsea team before settling down with Bridge. Scoring with the captain now looks like a fait accompli from the start.
The story got even more sordid, with claims that Terry drove Perroncel to an abortion clinic halfway through their affair for a hush-hush termination.
Next came the development that has really fired Fleet Street up. Instead of taking the cash for a kiss and tell, Perroncel has accepted £800,000 from Terry to keep quiet. That was like taking the needle and locking the door on those of us addicted to the saga and the papers really had Terry in their sights as a consequence.
So when Terry faced England manager Fabio Capello there was no other choice but to sack him and hand the captain’s armband to Rio Ferdinand – a player, incidentally, who took part in a group sex romp with fellow team mates while on holiday in Cyprus in 2005 and was suspended for ducking a drugs test.
Playing for Chelsea, Terry is being booed and jeered up and down the country by opposition fans but resoundingly supported by Chelsea fans to who goals are far more important than moral leadership.
After a fortnight, the best scandal in years has at least one more Act. Terry is reportedly about to fly out to Dubai to beg his wife to take him back. Allegations of other affairs, including one with a busty Big Brother contestant when his wife was pregnant with their twin girls won’t help his case.
In true soap opera style he’ll have to get past Toni’s dad Alan who looks like a right East End geezer right down to the burly tattooed arms and chunky jewellery.
There’s probably lots lessons to be learned from the scandal about the ludicrous money and esteem granted to footballers in this country who can’t help but act the idiot as a result. But it’s all too bloody obvious.
Above all else the affair has been a reminder of just how good newspapers can be when they have the bit between their teeth.
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