‘If the trade of the gossip columnist is trivial, then all life is trivial’ – Nigel Dempster
No one is more responsible for Britain’s current obsession with celebrity culture than the late, great gossip columnist Nigel Dempster (1941-2007). For a quarter of a century, as the editor of The Daily Mail’s diary, he was the man perfectly placed and qualified to record – and accelerate – the end of the age of deference. Indeed, for many people ‘Dempster’s Diary’ was the Mail. His page, with its scurrilous revelations about the great, the good, and the not-so-good, was the only one to read.
Bursting on to the national stage in the Seventies, in his kipper ties and too-tight suits, Dempster was the people’s cad – exposing the infidelities of Harold Pinter and Lady Antonia Fraser or James Goldsmith and Annabel Birley, paying tipsters like the bouffant Lord Lichfield with crates of champagne.
He was a consummate journalist, too, breaking a number of huge stories, among them the collapse of Princess Margaret’s marriage and the resignation of Harold Wilson. But for all his convivial charm and canny ability to infiltrate the smart set, Dempster led a strangely isolated life. Marred by broken relationships and a dependence on drink, its ending was both pitiful and inspiring.
In this riveting study of a man and his milieu, Tim Willis treats Dempster’s bibulous journey through old Fleet Street and Society as a tragi-comic romp. And through it, he provides a portrait of a changing world.
But, for all his convivial charm, his canny ability to infiltrate the smart set, Dempster led a rather strange, lonely life, marred by broken relationships and an on-off battle with drinking. In this riveting book, Tim Willis charts Dempster’s bibulous journey through old Fleet Street and society as a tragic-comic romp. In so doing, he provides a portrait of an age.
‘I’m really jealous of this; Dempster’s world is such a juicy subject and Tim Willis has caught it completely’ – Peter York
‘A gorgeous account of the sentimental sadist, seasoned with scandal and nostalgia.’ – Julie Burchill
‘Witty, scandalous and horribly riveting.’ – The Sunday Times
‘This alluring biography chronicles the extraordinary changes British society has undergone in the past few decades and accurately defines the columnist’s own part in that seismic shift. It’s a dazzling read, a helter-skelter ride through High Society and Fleet Street.’ – The Sunday Express
‘This lively, well-written biography is studded with the sort of anecdotes Dempster would have relished… (But) it is more than a portrait of a man; it is a portrait of a pre-Twitter age. Dempster prefigured our celebrity culture and in the end was submerged by it… ‘ – The Evening Standard
“Effervescent, elegantly written and faultlessly researched… Tim Willis has caught the atmosphere of the Dempster decades with uncanny precision… His book treats the many facets of Nigel Dempster, his braggadocio, and his bonking, his snobbism, his swagger, his guile and his generosity with frankness and in fascinating detail.” – The Spectator
Tim Willis is a freelance writer and editor. He has worked for most of Britain’s national newspapers and some of its glossier magazines. He is the author of Madcap: The half-life of Syd Barret (Short Books, 2002) and Torn Apart (Short Books, 2005)