AMONG the few certified accuracies in The Real Deal, Richard Desmond’s eagerly awaited autobiography (Random House, £20), are his name, his date of birth and his favourite food. Most of the rest is fantasy and distortions. Or “folklore” as Desmond claimed, rebutting a TV interview with Benjamyn Damazer who complained that every Monday at school Damazer was threatened by Desmond – “pinning me up against the wall with my legs dangling in the air” – and forced to hand over one shilling.
Violence played a big part in Desmond’s early life, laying the foundations of a fortune built on advertising, magazines, pornography and TV which led to becoming Ukip’s major sponsor.
Understandably, Desmond has not admitted to his frequent brutal verbal violence directed against his staff and enemies. He also denies personally hitting anyone, which will surprise Ted Young, the 5ft 5ins head of production. Young was hit by Desmond on 2 September 2004, accompanied by the immortal question: "Why the fuck haven’t you got Carl Wayne in the paper?” Wayne was a singer in the 1960s. Fearing more violent attacks from Desmond, Young fled home and eventually received substantial damages.
Assaulted by the mafia
Desmond does however write that Paul Raymond – the porn king who claimed Desmond stole his staff and ideas to create his own porn empire – is accused of involvement in burning someone to death; and he accuses the Australian billionaire Kerry Packer of threatening him: "I will slit your throat from ear to ear.” Conveniently, both are dead.
Not dead is Philip Bailey, formerly Desmond’s trusted managing director (demoted to a minnow in his book), who was violently assaulted in 1992 by the mafia in New York. The terror was a warning to Desmond to repay £1m or suffer the same treatment in punishment for a double cross. Yet Desmond coyly writes: "I do not know exactly what happened to Bailey”; and pleads legal helplessness when the Sunday Times “implied” that he had a relationship with the mafia. He omits to mention that when asked by the Sunday Times to provide a sworn statement that he had no relationship with the Gambino family, the newspaper received no reply.
As Desmond writes: "I was beginning to realise that crime doesn’t really pay” – but not quite. With the help of Joe Salama and Lee Bowden on his advertising sales team, Desmond had persuaded Norman Chanes and Richard “Ricky” Martino of John Gotti’s crime family to buy advertisements for premium-rate sex chatlines in his porn magazines during their visit to his Docklands office. Naively, the mafia men did not spot the vastly inflated circulation figures provided by Martin Ellice, Desmond’s honcho.
After no calls were received, the mafia wanted their money back. Desmond refused and half-murdering Bailey was the Mafia’s warning. Desmond admits he hired bodyguards to protect himself but omits to mention that James Brown, his personal bodyguard and a convicted thug, was given £2m in £20 notes packed into five Nike bags to be given to Martino’s emissary at a Soho restaurant.
Ever since, Desmond has pleaded innocence about his commercial relationship with the mafia. To his misfortune, in 2005 Chanes and Martino pleaded guilty in New York to a range of crimes including assaulting Bailey. In Bailey’s testimony at the trial and the mafia men’s courtroom confessions, all three described Desmond’s commercial relationship with the mafia.
Stiffing business partners
Another set of court records also sharply contradicts Desmond’s fruity description of his relationship with Bob Guccione after he obtained the licence to produce Penthouse in Britain. In Desmond’s version “there was the matter of ‘specials’ for which they (Penthouse) suddenly started billing us extra royalties”. Guccione’s writ, supported by more than 20 detailed affidavits signed by Penthouse staff and Desmond’s former employees, alleged that Desmond had defrauded Guccione by printing extra magazines and specials without permission or payment. He settled by paying £1m.
Stiffing business partners became a habit for Desmond from the outset of his rags-to-riches story. First to fall was Sean O’Mahoney, his first serious employer. Desmond admits to a hostile relationship but omits O’Mahoney’s description in an affidavit that his advertising office was stripped empty by Desmond, Malcolm Green and another former employee to build a rival business. With remarkable candour Malcolm Green subsequently admitted to Tom Bower, the writer: "The three of us conspired to steal the business. It was subterfuge.” Like so many of Desmond’s partners, Green later accused Desmond of double-crossing him. Behind his sentence “Malcolm may have asked if we should have a contract” is the ballistic end of a relationship repeated with countless others throughout Desmond’s life – and forgotten in his book.
In that vein, he fails to objectively present his relationship in 1992 with Lord Stevens, then chairman of United Newspapers, owner of Express Newspapers. Accurately, Desmond describes how United signed an outrageously tilted contract which committed United to buy an unlimited number of magazines printed and supplied by Desmond. As the seventeenth truck filled with Desmond’s worthless magazines arrived at United’s warehouse, Stevens realised his company was hurtling towards bankruptcy. “Desmond completely shafted us,” Stevens told Tom Bower at his Chelsea home in 2005. To terminate the contract, United paid Desmond £21m.
Strangely, soon after Desmond signed a near identical contract to supply magazines to a chain of garages owned by David Elias. His magazines, Desmond admits, were “filling warehouses” and didn’t sell. Elias, physically threatened by James Brown, by then promoted to Desmond’s commercial director, was pushed by Desmond into bankruptcy. The forensic accountancy examination of “The Garage Project” conducted by Price Waterhouse for the subsequent litigation suggested a conspiracy. As James Brown himself later admitted in an affidavit to support Elias against Desmond, “we set out to steal”. Like so many of Desmond’s partners and employees, Brown had become a victim of Desmond’s litigation. And like so many, Brown would now laugh at Desmond’s assertion in his book: "I am not litigious.”
Desmond’s last litigation against writer Tom Bower cost him £4.5m. Desmond describes his unsuccessful two-week libel trial as a “not an unqualified success”. Inevitably, he omits a key issue. He claimed to have been defamed by the statement that as the owner of Express Newspapers he influenced the paper’s content to “prevail against my enemies” – namely Conrad Black.
In describing how the jury heard a tape recording of him intimidating a fund manager to return some money, Desmond omitted that he threatened to publish in the Express a damaging profile of the fund manager if the money was not repaid. Two days later, the double-page damnation appeared in the Sunday Express. Yet Desmond had told the jury, after swearing on the Old Testament to tell the truth, that he had never influenced the contents of his newspapers.
His boasts in his own book of turning the Express group in favour of Ukip shows that he does indeed exert editorial control and that he escaped prosecution for perjury.
This book should be filed under “fantasy fiction”.