Category Archives: Blog

The Sunday Times: How it feels to … come face to face with Alesha MacPhail’s murderer

The evidence was harrowing. Details emerged in court that were so horrendous, I wished I had never heard them. I worried I was failing at my job because when it came to writing the news story, I couldn’t bring myself to repeat them. At times, people in the public gallery watching the trial held their heads in their hands and wept. Only one person seemed unaffected by the horror, and that was the boy in the dock.

It was last July when I first started covering the murder of six-year-old Alesha MacPhail. Her brutalised body had been discovered in woodland on the Scottish island of Bute, a day after she had gone missing from her bed. It seemed impossible that something so savage had taken place somewhere so gentle; on a tiny island where locals leave their doors unlocked and seals flop on mossy rocks by silver waves.

The island was on edge when I arrived. Police were warning locals to “be vigilant and look after each other”, as rumours spread. There was some nasty, unfounded speculation that Syrian refugees who had been relocated to the island might somehow be responsible for the little girl’s death, while others whispered that police had been checking ferry passengers and wondered about strange men from out of town.


Police forensic teams scour the Isle of Bute

It was shocking when we heard that a local 16-year-old boy had been arrested. I went to Greenock Sheriff Court to hear the charges read. When we heard these charges were rape and murder, I felt sick.

I returned seven months later to cover Aaron Campbell’s trial at the High Court in Glasgow. I don’t know what kind of person I expected to see, but it wasn’t the child standing in the dock. A teenage boy dressed in a smart, fashionable, grey check suit — an outfit I would later learn he had worn to his school prom. He had smooth, milky skin and neat black hair, which he occasionally swept back from his face.


The Sunday Times: Give me a lantern jaw, huge pecs and a beard transplant, doctor — all in time for Love Island

Summer means Love Island, which means weeks of ogling fit people searching for love, fame and sex — and then arguing about them on social media. The reality show, which starts again on ITV2 tomorrow, also provides a fresh excuse to debate the politics of young women’s bodies.

Last year one contestant, Megan Barton-Hanson, was reported to have spent £25,000 on plastic surgery. Critics picked apart her pneumatic looks and worried what impact her sculpted curves might have on other young women.

This year Love Island’s producers suggested they would bring in people with more diverse bodies. Their attempt at inclusivity has met with derision. The actor Jameela Jamil tweeted that producers must be “drunk” if they thought one girl with hips, Anna Vakili, counted as plus-sized.

Despite Love Island’s equal mix of male and female contestants, women’s bodies still get the most attention. But this obsession overlooks a significant shift in how young men relate to their bodies — particularly those who watch Love Island’s lads tanning their six-packs.

The look men are after is changing. No one wants to be a well-groomed metrosexual any more; they want to emulate hunky alpha men.


The Sunday Times: My behaviour was abominable but not abusive, says ‘sex addict’ Moby accused by Natalie Portman

It is not only Natalie Portman who was horrified by Moby’s behaviour when he claimed to have dated the Black Swan actress two decades ago when she was 18.

The millionaire electronic music producer told The Sunday Times — before Portman’s intervention — that his past behaviour had been “terrible” and admitted that he used to be “a sex and love addict”.

Moby, 53, real name Richard Melville Hall, is the great-great-great-nephew of the novelist Herman Melville, author of Moby-Dick. Moby’s breakthrough album Play, released in 1999, sold 12m copies. At one stage during his wild life Moby discovered graffiti in a New York public lavatory that read “Moby gets more ass than the toilet seat”.

He said: “The sexual encounters [mentioned in his new book, Then It Fell Apart] . . . I tried very hard to change the biographical details so the other person wouldn’t feel compromised . . . I didn’t want to be disrespectful. I just wanted to try to describe what had happened in a way where they wouldn’t feel compromised.”

However, last night he apologised on Instagram for his “inconsiderate” inclusion of Portman, 37, who described her youthful encounters with Moby as “creepy”. He added: “I accept that given the dynamic of our . . . age difference I absolutely should’ve acted more responsibly and respectfully when Natalie and I first met almost 20 years ago.”


The Sun: How come chattering classes get praise for airing their problems… but the working classes get only snobbery and derision?

THE decision to end The Jeremy Kyle Show, after the suspected suicide of one of its guests, raises important questions about aftercare on reality TV.

But equally telling is how much criticism of Kyle’s show has revealed a snobbishness about the people who watched and appeared on it.

Tory MP Charles Walker called it “unattractive television”. A columnist at the left-leaning New Statesman magazine described it as curating “a morbidly chaotic picture of a British underclass — for those watching at home to scoff and sneer”.

Over at the self-appointed moral compass of Britain, The Guardian, an editorial complained it preyed on “vulnerable, unhappy people”, turning “a blind eye to mental health problems”.

Guardian writer Zoe Williams had previously claimed: “Jeremy Kyle has created the cultural spectre of this feral underclass, none of whom has the smallest amount of emotional restraint.”

Such bile aimed at a show loved by so many — the final episode, on Friday last week, drew over a million viewers — reveals as much about Kyle as who our commentariat feel has the right to speak, and how they are meant to do it.

I didn’t watch Kyle to sneer. I watched with relief that some people were truly open about the madness of life. What happens to them now?

When I watched Kyle’s show I didn’t see a “feral under-class”. I saw people I know. I saw real life, which is messy, dysfunctional and chaotic, which does not always come out in well-formed sentences, memoirs or documentaries made by people with posh accents for Radio 4.

I didn’t watch Kyle to sneer. I watched with relief that some people were truly open about the madness of life. What happens to them now?



The Sunday Times: Candice Carty-Williams: my Queenie speaks for a whole other Britain

Queenie opens with a woman sarcastically texting “Wish you were here” to her ex-boyfriend while she lies with her legs in the stirrups for a gynaecological examination. From that moment, the book is a whirlwind of WhatsApp chats, terrible OkCupid dates, maddening millennials, horrendous flat-shares, humiliating trips to the sexual health clinic, friendship, therapy and lots of casual sex. “I put more sex in it but it was cut out,” Queenie’s author, Candice Carty-Williams, laughs.

Queenie — the book’s heroine — is a funny, sensitive, 25-year-old black woman contending with modern life. At turns hilarious and reflective, the book is also an exploration of race, sex and shame among young women. Queenie’s is a rare and urgently needed voice. “I believe that this voice needs to be part of literature,” Carty-Williams says. She’s right.

I meet her at the Penguin Random House office in London, where she works as a publishing executive. The success of her debut novel has turned her overnight into a bright young thing whose name appears on influencers’ Twitter feeds, in Radio 4 debates, and who is No 6 in The Sunday Times hardback bestseller list. Queenie has already been optioned for television. Carty-Williams is writing the pilot.
“I’ve never thought I could be here. When I was growing up I didn’t have any aspirations for myself. I didn’t think I’d amount to anything,” she says.Carty-Williams, who grew up in south London, always loved books. “They were my saviours.” She wanted to study English but her school encouraged her to read media studies instead.

The Sunday Times: Moby interview: “I don’t go on tour. I’m not promiscuous. I’m sober”

Born Richard Melville Hall, Moby was two when his father drove into a wall and killed himself. “My father, who was already a heavy drinker, [would] disappear for days on end, leaving my mother broke and alone in a cold apartment with a wailing newborn. One night she threatened to divorce him and take me away. That night he drove into the base of a bridge and died,” he writes in his new book, Then It Fell Apart.

Moby — said to be distantly related to Herman Melville, hence the nickname — was raised by his troubled, pot-smoking mother, who subsequently moved them to San Francisco. Once there, high times with her new hippie friends often took precedence over looking after her son. When Moby was three, he remembers his mother dropping him at a “low-rent day-care centre” while she went to the beach to take acid. He was woken from his afternoon nap by a male care-worker who sexually abused him. He didn’t tell anyone what happened, but grew up “afraid of men with long hair and a beard”. Unfortunately, there were many men of that description paying visits to his mother during his childhood — some violent, most druggies.

Music was his escape. His first book, 2016’s Porcelain, covered the period between 1989 and 1999, when he was a DJ, riding a modest wave of success. This one picks up where it left off. Aged 34, his career had hit the skids. He’d been dropped by his US record label and assumed his new album, Play, would be his last. Instead it became one of the world’s bestselling records.

Mega-fame, however, sent him into a spiral of alcoholism, drug addiction and depression, which resulted in his 2008 suicide attempt. Today his friends call him “monastic”. “Everything’s changed,” he tells me from his home in southern California. “The things that were important to me 10 years ago are just not important to me now. I don’t care about fame. I don’t go on tour. I’m not promiscuous. I’m sober. I look at some of the things that were important to me then and think, ‘How do I still share DNA with that person?’” Now 53, he’s working on an album of orchestral arrangements because “that’s what musicians do when they get old” and donates 100% of his profits to animal rights charities.

Of the book, he says: “The only thing that makes me worry is the character of my mother. She was a creative, complicated, possibly mentally ill human being and I hope she doesn’t come across as one-dimensional and cruel… that was a small part of who she was.”


The Sunday Times: Moby: Then It Fell Apart — tales of sex, drugs and celebrity hell from his new memoir


I wanted to die. But how? It was 5am and I’d had 15 drinks, $200 worth of cocaine and a handful of Vicodin.

Over the past few years my depression had been building and nights like this were becoming the norm.

I was a lonely alcoholic and I desperately wanted to love someone and be loved in return. But every time I tried to get close to another human being, I had crippling panic attacks that kept me isolated and alone. I’d had a few successful years of making music and sold tens of millions of records, but now my career was sputtering. I couldn’t find love or success, so I tried to buy happiness.

moby in 2008

Moby in 2008

Three years earlier I had spent $6m in cash on a luxury penthouse apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It had been my dream home: five storeys on the top of an iconic limestone building overlooking Central Park. Having grown up on food stamps and welfare, I’d assumed that moving to a castle in the sky would bring me happiness. But as soon as I moved in I was as sad and anxious as I’d been in my small loft. I sold the sky castle, moved back downtown and recommitted myself to debauchery. I put tinfoil over the windows and had weekend-long orgies fuelled by alcohol and drugs. But the more I threw myself into degeneracy, the more I ended up filled with self-loathing and loneliness.

The world of fame and success that gave me meaning and legitimacy was being taken away from me. And now the only respite I found from anxiety and depression was an hour or two each night when I was full of vodka and cocaine, looking for someone lonely and desperate enough to go home with me.