Ben Bradlee, legendary Washington Post editor who exposed the Watergate scandal which brought down US President Richard Nixon, has died.
I sat next to Ben at a dinner party in London in the late Nineties and he was everything I’d hoped he’d be – supremely intelligent, quick-witted, irascible, charming and inspiring.
As the wine flowed, we got into a fevered debate over the identity of the Post’s famous mystery mole, dubbed ‘Deep Throat’, who provided most of the Watergate exclusives.
‘I reckon he’s a multi-millionaire in his 80s who held down a high-ranking intelligence agency job at the time,’ I finally announced.
Bradlee smirked. ‘And on what, young man, do you base that theory?’
I replied: ‘1) He’s kept the secret for three decades so he’s a man used to keeping secrets. I therefore assume he was a high-ranking intelligence agency guy. 2) He must be rich or he’d have sold his story by now. 3) He’s still alive because you’ve always said you’d only name him after he died…’
Bradlee stared at me for several long seconds, then laughed. ‘Interesting guess, Mr Morgan.’ ‘Am I right, Mr Bradlee?’ He refused to say. Six years later, a man called Mark Felt confirmed he was Deep Throat.
He was 92 years old, and had been No 2 at the FBI during Watergate.
Interestingly though, he wasn’t rich. In fact, the main reason he revealed his identity was because his family wanted him to cash in on the disclosure before he died, to pay for his grandchildren’s education.
As for Ben Bradlee, his journalistic motto was: ‘You never monkey with the truth.’ That ethos propelled him to become the greatest newspaper editor of them all. They say you should never meet your heroes. Ben was the exception to that rule. fall for it. My theory about why Brand’s so popular with the masses is that he simply bombards them with so many long words that they haven’t got a clue what he’s actually talking about, they just love the way he says it.
For example, in his new book he offers the following interpretation of humanity: ‘It is not a disparate and separate conglomerate of individuals but the temporary physical manifestation or expression of a subtler electromagnetic, microcosmic realm.’
Now, his disciples may gasp in awe when they digest what they perceive to be the linguistic genius of that sentence. I, however, merely gasp in amused convulsion because I know exactly where he got that talent.
Russell admitted to me last year that he studies dictionaries so he can memorise long words. ‘If ever I hear a word and I don’t know what it means, I go and look it up in a dictionary and find out.’
He then gave me a perfect example. ‘Here’s a good word for you – satyromaniac,’ Russell chuckled lasciviously (see, we can all play this game, mate). ‘It means a male nymphomaniac.’ So don’t be fooled next time Mr Brand unloads an avalanche of complex words that sound like he just filched them from the dictionary – because he almost certainly has.
Robbie Williams is a curious cove. I got to know him well when he first hit the big time with Take That and he was always a tad chippier than the rest of the band.
When I wrote their authorised biography, four of them – Gary, Mark, Jason and Howard – penned lovely hand-written notes of gratitude in my copy. Robbie simply scrawled: ‘Dear Piers, f*** you
The NSPCC has been running an excellent Twitter campaign called #childhoodwisdom in which famous people pose with words that inspired them. Mine was simple to choose; my mother once sent me a postcard depicting a hippopotamus flying with a flock of seagulls and the caption: ‘Ambition knows no bounds.’
I can tolerate almost any personality fault, bar a lack of ambition.
Though it can obviously manifest itself in many different ways.
As Napoleon Bonaparte put it: ‘Great ambition is the passion of a great character. Those endowed with it may perform very good or very bad acts. All depends on the principles which direct them.’