Former Daily Mirror 3am girl Jessica Callan, who has written a tell-all book about her adventures working for the gossip column, has told Press Gazette that she was “shocked and saddened” to once be voted the most popular role model for media studies students.
The 2001 survey saw Callan, an original member of the Daily Mirror’s showbiz column, and her colleagues Eva Simpson and Polly Graham, deemed “the most popular role models in print”.
Although flattered, Callan now says she was shocked at the results. “I grew up wanting to be an investigative reporter, but ended up on a gossip column,”
she said. “These people think it’s an easy job and it’s glamorous, but it’s neither. I was a bit shocked and a bit saddened. They’d rather be on the front line of showbiz journalism than be a war reporter.”
Callan’s column started in 2000, a matter of months after the launch of celebrity weekly Heat and around the same time that the first series of Big Brother hit UK TV screens – the dawn of an era where it now appears anyone can have their five minutes of fame.
“It exploded, a celebrity culture where anyone could be a celebrity,”
“When we first started the column Big Brother had just aired, but we didn’t put any of them in because they weren’t proper celebrities. We refused, but now they are everywhere.
“The obsession had clearly always been there, but the whole interest in people who aren’t just A-list seemed to develop from that time.
“Although people such as Matthew Wright and Dominic Mohan had written about TV presenters and soap stars, it all seemed to shift at that time.”
So what is it about the world of celebrities that has a generation gripped on knickerless pop stars falling out of limos and into rehab and a booming industry of weekly magazine titles charting such antics, but sees newspaper sales plummeting?
Callan, who left the Mirror in 2005 to go travelling, admits that none of her friends outside the media buy newspapers, and feels it could be a result of young people wanting to escape from the depression of real life.
She said: “There’s no point getting high and mighty about it, because so many people don’t buy papers and don’t watch the news.
“In a way you can see why people close off from that and prefer to go to gossip columns, because it’s entertainment – it’s a living soap opera.
“They make everyone feel a bit better about their lives – looking at how much A-list rich celebrities fuck up.
People’s grandparents have been brought up with a paper in the house and the parents still buy them, but it just didn’t seem to transcend a generation – it’s really odd.”
Callan, who’s book Wicked Whispers – confessions of a gossip queen – was released this month, is the daughter of veteran gossip columnist Paul Callan, who worked across a number of papers including the Mirror and Daily Mail during the Sixties and Seventies.
Callan said that her father never had the access problem faced by today’s press when dealing with celebrities, and blames the entourage that surround modern celebrities for the press’s increasing desire for bad stories.
“There was no entourage in those days, no agents and publicists who ran it. I think celebs weren’t that media savvy, but they got easier rides from it. The resentment and kicking that a lot of people get from the press, I think, is because of the way that the people around them operate.”
Callan spent five years building up a “hardy constitution”, trailing round showbiz parties and hiding in toilets to report on celebrity misdemeanours (“fighting and fucking” her favourite stories), but on the advice of her father and her once-editor Piers Morgan, decided five years was her limit and it was time to bow out because “you never see old female gossip columnists”.
Callan has another book in the pipeline (a novel based on her experiences as a gossip columnist) and is currently enjoying a less sociable life with a much lower risk to her liver.