'What a mug I was': Former Times diarist Hugo Rifkind on getting celeb stories without hacking phones

Times columnist Hugo Rifkind has told of the frustrations of being a celebrity journalist around the time that tabloid phone-hacking was taking place.

In his column on Saturday, Rifkind described his covering the world of celebrity as “rubbish” and told how he “just couldn’t figure out how” to get stories like the red-tops.

On his time writing a diary for The Times, Rifkind said: “I just couldn’t do this stuff. And yet, every morning, I’d open the red tops and they’d be positively bursting with exactly the sort of detailed celebrity froth I just couldn’t get. ‘How?’ I’d mutter, headbutting the desk. ‘For the love of God, how?’”

Writing after the revelations of the Mirror phone-hacking compensation trial last week, he said: “Well, now I know. I started to know, obviously, five years ago, when the first wave of the phone-hacking scandal shut down the poor News of the World, but I feel I know rather better now.”

He noted how “former Sunday Mirror journalist Dan Evans told how he’d had a list of 100 targets, whose phones he’d check every day, sometimes twice”.

Rifkind wrote: “There’s me, beating myself up on the night bus for the way I didn’t quite get the chance to speak to Sienna Miller. And then there’s him. Just fiddling with a phone.

“I can understand why they started hacking phones. Not why they kept doing it, once they were ruining lives. But why they started. I understand what it’s like, when you’re in that cynical zone, and it all feels like a war. I never did it, obviously, and you can tell that’s the truth by how bad my stories were. Didn’t know how to. Didn’t know you could. Thinking back, though, sure, I can see how it happens. Those barren days, after lunch, as the deadline looms ever closer. Eyeing the red top rivals, with that tortured feeling inside. How do they do it? Why can’t I do it? Who are they speaking to?

“What I mug I was. What a bloody mug.”

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