I RETURN, hotfoot and breathless, from Pebble Beach, California, with the inside story of THAT media summit. Did Tony Blair steal the show? Reader, he did. And I speak as one who, many years ago, had been there and done that.
Did I ever tell you I was once so close to Rupert Murdoch that my jealous colleagues presented me with a costly statuette in bronzed glass which proclaimed me to be "Brown Nose of the Year"? It was a remarkable artwork, commissioned by then Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie from a leading British sculptor (all the more remarkable because Kelvin paid for it himself). It is a constant and pleasing reminder of the most infamous NewsCorp bash of all: The Year of the Stripper!
Aspen was our pleasure dome, 1992 the year, unforgettable the experience: I suffered severe altitude sickness, defied death by twice tumbling into a raging river on a white-water rafting expedition, and drank like an Oz/Pom to cement antipodean relationships (I was at the time editing Rupert's Sydney Daily Telegraph). This saw me leading the field in the Character-of-the-Conference competition… until a male stripper and the Wunderkind from Fox TV took centre stage.
In a packed and darkened lecture theatre at the Aspen Institute, 200 of the international elite of dumbed-down journalism giggled and muttered schoolboy jokes under the beady-eyed watchfulness of Rupert and his host of right-hand men.
The Wunderkind, a bright young Fox exec called Steve Chan, had been burbling for several minutes, over the muted buzz of bored editors, about television, audience perception and God-knows-what-else when IT HAPPENED! Caught in the full glare of a single spotlight, a pony-tailed male stripper, hired by Chan to illustrate his presentation, was called on to whip off his jockstrap, sashay to the front of the auditorium and flash his credentials. Rupert was horrified, and Chan caught a plane back to LA that night and was next seen flipping burgers for a living in a Watts Wimpy bar. Which may leave you wondering how that helped me win the Brown Nose title.
Simple, dear reader: in the confused darkness that followed what was meant to have been the conference's keynote speech, Kelvin was left with a decision: did he abandon his mock presentation — which was to have gone to either the British MD of News International or to someone from Fox, both of which choices were speedily abandoned in the recrimination and confusion — or did he find a muggins on whom he could foist the poisoned chalice?
"Banksy, I've had a brainwave!" he hissed as he rose to make his presentation speech. "We're going to give it to… YOU!"
It was my finest comic hour: in a hastily cobbled-together acceptance speech I confirmed that I had wept drunkenly two nights earlier as I confessed to then Today editor Martin Dunn and The Sun's leader writer Chris Davies of my admiration for the Great Man.
Blair should beware, though: if he really does seek a role in Murdoch's empire, oratory — even on a cross-dressing theme — is not the way to go. Before that year was out, this Brown Nose Award winner was on his way home to edit the Daily Mirror, never to darken the Big Man's doorstep again!