In his illustrious on-screen career as the archetypal bumbling Englishman, Hugh Grant has achieved stardom as a cuddly klutz. Now a new, darker side to the Oxford-educated thespian can be revealed — that of the calculating mastermind of the sort of tabloid sting which has earned him some of his less flattering headlines.
The actor has revealed the fruits of an extraordinary and unorthodox interview he conducted in a Kent pub with its owner Paul McMullan, a former News of the World executive who had previously admitted to hacking mobile phone messages before it became illegal, using a concealed tape recorder. Or, as Mr Grant succinctly put it, “the bugger bugged”.
The result was a list of colourful and unsubstantiated allegations covering areas from whether Rebekah Brooks, the former NOTW editor and now chief executive of News International, knew about phone-hacking at the Sunday paper to the suggestion that a well-known television actress had an early career as a prostitute.
The interview, excerpts from which were published in this week's edition of The New Statesman, guest edited by Mr Grant's former girlfriend Jemima Khan, was an example of revenge being a dish best served in cold black and white print after Mr McMullan happened to pull up behind the actor's broken-down car earlier last year and offered the stranded actor a lift.
The landlord then sold pictures and his account of the incident to the Mail on Sunday for £3,000.
As part of a meditation on freedom of information and privacy, the Hollywood actor made good on a pledge to drop in at his saviour's Dover pub for a friendly pint and a chat.
The encounter was given added piquancy by the fact Mr McMullan has stated that phone-hacking was “pretty widespread” at the NOTW and suggested that its targets might have included Mr Grant.
Mr Grant noted that “absurdly I felt a bit guilty for recording [Mr McMullan]”. For his part, his target recognised the tables had been turned. Mr McMullan said: “I asked [Mr Grant] jokingly if he was taping our conversation. When I heard about the article, my response was a big fat ‘oops'.”