Former Telegraph diary editor Tim Walker reveals how a story about Stephen Fry led him to be buried under a tsunami of abuse. Extract from his new book: Star Turns.
One autumnal day in 2013, Tony Gallagher, who was then my editor at The Daily Telegraph, happened to mention that he’d had breakfast at The Wolseley restaurant in St James’s, and, sitting not far from him, had been Stephen Fry and Andy Serkis, the actor best known for playing Gollum in The Lord of the Rings films.
Waiting for his own guest to arrive, Gallagher had been struck by how Fry, deep in conversation with Serkis, appeared to be addressing his millions of followers on Twitter while not actually touching a single key on his mobile phone.
I duly wrote what I considered to be an unremarkable story in the newspaper’s Mandrake diary, beneath the headline ‘Does Stephen Fry write his tweets?’ I had included a quote from Fry’s people, which appeared to answer the question, explaining that he always wrote his own tweets, but that some of them were ‘timed,’ which meant he didn’t actually have to write them in real time.
Back then, I have to admit all of this was new to me – and to Gallagher, and, I’m sure, most of the newspaper’s readers – but then, we’d only just discovered Twitter.
I’d headed out into the country that night for a few days off, blissfully unaware that a tsunami was even then gathering strength in Fry’s north London home. A BBC America journalist who wrote about what then happened talked about how I was subjected to ‘the frightening majesty of Stephen Fry in full rage’.
The actor and comedian wrote a 1,000-word blog about me on Tumblr (I can no longer find it online) in which he called me, among other things, a ‘shiny-faced, arse-witted, human cockroach’ and ‘a creep from the inner ring of Satan’s rectum’.
As any good libel lawyer will tell you, this all amounts to no more than vulgar abuse and it’s everyone’s right to come out with it. Still, it inevitably provoked a lot of comment at the time, and, in a book about my interactions with stars, I don’t in all honesty feel I can omit the most explosive one of the lot.
Warming to his theme in his blog, Fry went on to say that he no longer had any faith at all in print media. “When I do a The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug press junket next week, for example, I will do no print media. When I have to offer some PR for an upcoming BBC 2 series on being gay around the world called Out There: no print media. No magazines and certainly no newspapers. And it’s all because of people like Tim Walker.
“One of the chief glories of Twitter, from my point of view, is that it allows me to short-circuit loathsome bottomfeeders of his kind. If I do a TV chat show, or a radio interview people are free to think I’m a wanker, because at least it’s me they’re listening to or watching. Not some ‘profile’ version of me filtered through the envious, mean-spirited spite of an arsehole journalist whose only attainment is the ability to sneer.”
Needless to say, the vast legions of keyboard warriors Fry had at his command saw this as the order to open fire, and, for a few weeks, the bombardment I took on Twitter was intense. If I’d a pound for every time I was called a c*nt, I’d now be happily retired and living in the Bahamas.
When we’d engaged briefly at the start of that epic battle in cyberspace, I’d thought the best thing to do was to invite Fry out to lunch. I recognised he was bipolar, but it always seemed to me that more probably
united — rather than divided — us.
He responded that he had filming commitments and couldn’t take me up on the offer any time soon, but gamely said that he would be up for it and even suggested it could be fun.
Around that time I’d had a kiss-and-make-up lunch with Hugh Bonneville, the Downton Abbey actor, at the same venue, and, while also aggrieved about something I’d written, we’d finished it with a handshake.
Sadly, the lunch with Fry never happened, but, for the avoidance of doubt, the offer remains open.
This is an extract from Star Turns, by Tim Walker, in which the former Telegraph diary editor dishes the dirt on 71 celebrity encounters . Book available now price £20.