[Updates, two so far, at end of post]
In Summer 2000, as a London to Liverpool train was speeding north, one occupant of Coach D was deep in conversation. On her mobile. A sleb who nobody had heard of, she was en route to an interview at the studios on Albert Dock. From Euston she had been stopping even less than the train, only to be scuppered by Kilsby Tunnel. “Hello? Hello? Can you hear me?” she barked into the phone.
From the other end of the coach, a Scouse voice replied “Er, we can all f***in’ hear yer”. Well, now everyone can share in the feeling of that riposte, thanks to the cynical traffic building tactics of Mail Online and the shameless – not to say desperate – self promotion vehicle that is Samantha Brick. Yes, when a sub-Z lister went into print and said “Can you hear me?” an awful lot of folk listened.
Samantha who? Well, according to her website, Ms Brick – the surname adopted by marriage from her French husband – is a “writer, award-winning producer, journalist”, but then, awards don’t fuel a decent lifestyle. So what has she done recently? A few features in the Express – probably not paying much in the way of money – then a few more in the Daily Mail.
But by her own admission, Ms B is not massively wealthy. What to do? Of course, something provocative, something deliberate, something to make sure we can all hear her. And so it came to pass: “Why women hate me for being beautiful” headlined the most blatant piece of self promotion outside politics for some time. Nobody with their brain plugged in could doubt the reaction.
An airline pilot sent her a bottle of champagne (I’d hope he had paid rather more attention to getting the passenger numbers, load sheet and flight computer programming done first). A bloke bought her train ticket. Another bought her flowers. One paid her taxi fare. She works out. She doesn’t drink or smoke. And by this time sick buckets around the country were filling up fast.
But the web traffic was the stuff of dreams. Martin Clarke must have thought all his birthdays had come at once. So there had to be a follow-up piece. Ms B was not surprised at all the vomit that had been induced. It merely proved her point. She was not only right, but she was also right. And her husband has A Very Big Gun, plus he doesn’t like his Missus being dissed.
Few people seemed to realise that this was a very intentional exercise in money making, maybe even after Ms Brick’s appearance on This Morning. But that is all it is: Mail Online will have made tens of thousands of pounds just in hits – and pulled in more readers – while Samantha Brick has gone from zero to being bankable for a few months, which is better for paying the bills.
And, all the while, the punters are had for mugs. No change there, then.
[UPDATE1 6 April 1015 hours: the Mail certainly isn't sick of Ms Brick. Yesterday's piece with screen shots from her appearance on This Morning has been updated, and pundit Melissa Kite - another of those refugees from the Maily Telegraph - has been ordered over the top to back up the hacks.
"Are we really this angry because a woman likes herself?" asks Ms Kite, replicating the Brick strawman in some style. People aren't "angry", they just don't see what all the fuss is about, plus many are now realising that this exercise is just the Mail ramping its content and Ms Brick shamelessly promoting Herself Personally Now]
[UPDATE2 8 April 1200 hours: the Mail isn't done quite yet. Keeping the story alive has come another piece featuring Ms Brick's husband and his Very Big Gun. Basically, if you insult 'is wife, 'e is going to come and shoot you English Types.
And in support have come the pundits, firstly Amanda Bloody Platell, Glenda in chief, telling readers "Vanity, I'm afraid, is never beautiful", which means Mandy is in big trouble.
Then, accomplishing the feat of facing both ways at once, has followed Suzanne Moore, who rails against the sleb "gossip culture". Yes, someone at Mail Online complains about what drives most of the traffic to Mail Online.
And to bring a truly surreal air to proceedings has come an ostensibly serious discussion between Eva Wiseman and Susie Orbach in the Guardian. But they, too, miss the point by some distance: it's about two things, neither of which they mention: self-promotion by Ms Brick, and driving content by Mail Online. And all the comment pieces are merely feeding them]