Virgin employee quits amid celebrity leak scandal
For years, Virgin Atlantic has marketed itself as the airline of choice for celebrities, offering a luxury travel experience in its proudly “Upper Class” cabins.
But it was alleged Friday that flight details of dozens of high-profile customers, including Princess Beatrice, were passed to the paparazzi by an airline employee so photographers could take their photos on arrival.
Hollywood stars Kate Winslet and Daniel Radcliffe, the pop singer Madonna and her children, and television presenter Jeremy Clarkson were among more than 70 international stars targeted by the leaks, according to e-mails seen by The Telegraph.
A Virgin Atlantic employee has now resigned amid claims she was responsible for the tipoffs. The company, majority owned by Sir Richard Branson, has launched an immediate investigation.
Lawyers for some of those targeted are arguing that the case should be referred to the Leveson Inquiry, which is examining media ethics, while others are considering legal action.
The details are contained in a series of e-mails that appear to have passed between a Virgin worker, understood to be an Upper Class support supervisor, and a director at the Big Pictures photography agency.
The celebrities’ travel schedules are recorded in precise detail in the series of e-mails, which also appear to include personal exchanges. In one message the Virgin worker mocked Borat actor Sacha Baron Cohen and his wife, Isla Fisher, for travelling economy on a flight to New York.
In another she gives details of separate flights to L.A. being taken by singer Cheryl Cole and her estranged husband Ashley Cole, a soccer player, in July 2010. The woman jokes: “That’ll be funny if she bumps in to him!” It was first reported that the details of only eight celebrities had been leaked, including the Coles, actor Sienna Miller and soccer player Jermain Defoe.
But another series of redacted emails, seen by The Telegraph, suggest flight details of dozens more were also passed on in the past two years. They include Princess Beatrice, James May, the TV presenter, Charlize Theron and Coleen Rooney, the wife of soccer player Wayne Rooney. It is not known if the second batch was sent by the same individual but one of the e-mails carries the same sign off. One e-mail from the Big Pictures director to the Virgin worker starts: “Just trying to sort you out some money with accounts.”
A Virgin Atlantic spokesman said: “The allegations that have been raised are extremely serious and we have launched an immediate investigation. The security of customer information is our highest priority and we have robust processes in place to ensure that passenger information is protected.”