“Stay calm, smile a lot and give out lots of gifts to both friends and rivals”
“Brooks is almost indefinable – a contemporary shapeshifter, light and dark, adored and loathed,” reports The Guardian. “One moment, she is charming her way through life, the perfect party girl with her cheek and charm, taking Sun reporters to the annual love-in with their readers at an old Butlins holiday camp, chatting to the lady who serves the coffee in the Old Bailey canteen…The next moment, she was Lady Macbeth with a BlackBerry, a model of cold ambition, a hate figure with her face portrayed as a witch in the window of a supermarket near the News International building in east London. ”
Acquitted yesterday after a near eight-month trial of charges of phone hacking, the former editor of the UK’s News of the World, Rupert Murdoch’s most loyal and favourite editor, unsurprisingly has been the focus of much press comment. By contrast her former colleague and lover Andy Coulson, also a former News of the World editor, was found guilty of conspiring to hack phones and faces a long prison sentence.
As you can see from the comment above, The Guardian doesn’t quite know how to categorise Brooks. She certainly has an interesting back-story. Brought up in a semi-detached cottage in the village of Hatton in Cheshire, she joined the News of the World as a secretary in 1989 before being made editor at the age of 32 in 2000. Three years later she was appointed editor of the UK’s best-selling daily, The Sun.
So how to account for that meteoric rise? Even when she is under immense pressure, Brooks has always managed to maintain a calm exterior. She also smiles a lot, and is by all accounts very tactile with both men and women. Now I’ve always thought that smiling can take you a long way in life. Amongst the British middle classes, a fixed smile, almost a grimace, is an essential social skill especially in the commercial world. Think of legendary entrepreneur Richard Branson, who when he gives a television interview manages to keep his upper lip off his teeth for the entire sequence.
That said, smiling can only take you so far as it’s part of the moment, but easily forgotten. Gift-giving, on the other hand, really is a step change in social interaction. It creates alliances and goodwill, and creates lasting memories. I was intrigued, then, to learn that Brooks has been a consummate gift giver for most of her adult life. When she was an editor the area surrounding her desk was always festooned with presents that she could dispense. She even sent a hamper of organic food to a rival editor when he was hospitalised.
The interpretation of Brooks’s gift-giving naturally varies depending on the point of perception. According to a close confidant she is an arch manipulator, who bestows gifts to make useful contacts not friends. By contrast Roy Greenslade, a former editor of the Daily Mirror, another popular, UK tabloid, has a different perspective on Brooks. Writing in the London Evening Standard he suggests, “She is routinely described as a supreme networker, and what critics fail to grasp is that her engaging charm is a facet of her personality rather than a calculating act. She is, to use the cliché, a people person.”
So it looks like no final verdict on Rebekah Brooks’ personality is possible. Nevertheless she provides a useful lesson if you want to get on in life: stay calm, smile a lot and give out lots of gifts to both friends and rivals.
Dr Sean Carey is research fellow in the School of Social Sciences, University of Roehampton
* Published in print edition on 27 June 2014
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