Hacked Off, Actually: how Hugh Grant found politics
Hugh Grant has long been a screen idol, but since the phone hacking scandal he's a more political animal. As he meets the Prime Minister, should we be listening too?
He's a Hollywood staple, known chiefly for his blue eyes, floppy hair and conspicuously upper-class accent. Until recently, Hugh Grant's acquaintance with politics was limited to an unconvincing portrayal of a British Prime Minister in festive romcom Love Actually.
Now, however, the staunch morality and crusading righteousness of that role has permeated into the real life of Hugh Grant. Motivated by his own experience of phone hacking, the actor has urged David Cameron to implement strong media reforms ahead of the Leveson inquiry, which is set to unpick the scandal in November.
Over the past month Grant has visited every Party Conference, campaigning for curbs on Rupert Murdoch's political power and on the media's ability to invade people's privacy. In a recent Independent interview he called Cameron's relationship with News Corporation 'sinisterly cosy to a deeply unhealthy and unattractive degree', and claimed phone hacking was common practice even in other newspapers.
Grant rose to political prominence this summer, when the News of The World closed amid revelations that it had hacked the phones of celebrities, soldiers and murdered teenagers. Suspicious that he too had been a victim, the plucky celebrity bugged Paul McMullen, an ex-journalist who revealed the shocking extent of hacking.
Now, Grant has joined other high-profile figures, including journalist John Pilger and the mother of murdered schoolgirl Sarah Payne, to support 'Hacked Off', a campaign for firmer regulation of the press.
He joins a host of celebrities who are now as famous for campaigning as for their films or music: Angelina Jolie or Bob Geldof who tirelessly lobby for international development, and even Arnold Schwarzenegger, now a leading US politician.
The campaign is a dramatic turnaround in the saga of Hugh Grant, but it's one he's happy with. 'It was good for me to use my brain,' he says, 'but I wish I picked a cause that has more natural public sympathy, something to do with animals, perhaps.'
Does Grant really have a place in politics? There is scant connection between celebrity and sensible public policy judgments. Yet when the famous speak, they can drown out the voices of normal people – and win battles on complicated issues with a flashy smile or dashing reputation. In democratic society, is it really appropriate to allow people with such unfounded power to push for the causes they happen to believe in?
But the power of celebrity to inject passion and interest into important causes is a factor to its credit. Many people are apathetic about politics, development, even freedom of speech: any force that creates excitement around these issues, some argue, should be embraced.
- Do celebrities make a valuable contribution to public debate?
- In a democratic society, should all voices be treated equally?
- Imagine you are famous beyond your wildest dreams. Pick a cause and plan a campaign to raise awareness, change policy or raise money.
- Write a magazine article about the power of celebrity, and how the rich and famous have influenced politics.
Some People Say...
“Showbiz and politics should be kept separate.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- What's next for Hugh?
- An important part of Grant's political meetings has been to ask politicians to take the Leveson Inquiry seriously. That enquiry is scheduled to start in November, so he's likely to continue to campaign as we near the end of year.
- What's the deal with the Inquiry?
- Key figures in civil liberties, the police and media will look at evidence from the phone hacking scandal and speak to those affected by it. They'll judge the scope of wrongdoing, and make recommendations about what to do about it.
- What might these be?
- It's likely the role of regulatory bodies like the Press Complaints Commission will be considered. Hacked Off hopes the Inquiry will push for stricter rules about journalistic accountability, and about stopping single news companies becoming too powerful.
- Rupert Murdoch
- Australian media mogul and owner of News Corporation, the world's second largest media conglomerate. The company owns high profile outlets including The Times, Fox and The Sun.
- Phone hacking
- The practice of hacking into private messages on people's phones, to listen for juicy tabloid stories. It's illegal and was at the centre of the hacking scandal, which also shed light on other questionable journalistic practices, such as bribing police.
- News of the World
- Tabloid newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp, which was shut down following the phone hacking scandal. Journalists from the paper hacked the phone of Milly Dowler, a murdered teenage girl, potentially deleting crucial information.
- Paul McMullen
- Former News of the World journalist, who made stark claims revealing the scope of phone hacking at the newspaper.
- Leveson Inquiry
- The investigation into the News of the World scandal and surrounding issues of personal privacy, media regulation, and police corruption.