HOW TO: be a CELEBRITY DIARY REPORTER

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For six months now, under the employ of the Evening Standard Magazine, I have had the good fortune to be able to go to an amazing array of celebrity parties and VIP events, to report on them for the magazine’s ‘Flashbulb’ section.

My friends turn a bit green when I tell them what events I’ve been able to go to – the BRITS, the BAFTAS, the Oliviers, countless starry fashion show dinners, balls, premieres and intimate members club parties – but not as green as when I tell them which stars I’ve been able to talk to.

Over free champagne and canapes and on the red carpet, I’ve interviewed Angelina Jolie, Uma Thurman, Colin Firth, Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Kate Hudson, Anna Kendrick, David Gandy, Tinie Tempah, Kim Cattrall – and many, many more on my travels. It’s been a wonderful experience – and has done wonders for my confidence as a journalist.

Sound like a dream job to you? It pretty much is, but it’s not at all impossible to acquire. ES are not the only publication to offer flexible diary work – the Mail on Sunday and the Times are two other notable examples that run a similar operation.

Meanwhile, here are a few tips for success I have picked up on what feels like countless party nights:

 

1). BE BOLD

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Your job is going to be to go up to famous people you have only seen before in magazines, in movies and on the TV, completely off the cuff – and it’s a pretty intimidating thing to do. My first ever interviewee was Kylie Minogue at the Claridges Christmas Tree unveiling, and I was terrified, having to tap her on the shoulder – thankfully she was very accommodating. But just take a deep breath and remember they’re just people despite all the gloss and glamour – most of the time, they’ll be more than happy to answer a couple of questions. You have to frame it innocently though – ‘I’m just going around asking people questions about Christmas/summer/the election…’ – or some might think you’ll be asking prying questions about their private lives.

 

2) PICK YOUR SPOT

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Usually the rule is, the later in the night, the better the chance of success. Spend the early part of the evening just observing, walking around the room and seeing who has shown up. Another bonus is that, later on the night, people will have knocked back a few drinks by that point and are likely to be more warm to you (as well as potentially giving funnier answers). Be concise with questioning , don’t take up more than five minutes of their time, and never interrupt them from an important-looking conversation – the best time to catch someone is as they’re moving from room to room. Be polite and friendly, and wait your turn. All pretty obvious stuff. Another major tip — don’t use a dictaphone, use the voice recorder on your phone, it’s much less intimidating if you’re waving it around casually.

 

3) MAKE FRIENDS WITH P.R.s

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P.R.s organise events, and they’re looking to give you the best time possible on a night (mainly for their own publicity), so make friends with them. They’ll get you drinks, they’ll sometimes even offer to introduce you to a celebrity and often have their ear to the ground when it comes to picking up party gossip. As soon as you get to a party, ask for the PR by name who sent you an email about the event and take it from there – apart from anything, they are invariably a fun person to talk to if you’ve gone to this event solo. Plus, as an added bonus, if you really hit it off, they’ll send you invitations for other events they’re organizing in the future – and will always keep you in the loop.

 

4) DO YOUR RESEARCH

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You’ve been sent the invitation by email, and recognise the names of loads of stars on the list. You get to the party, and can’t recognise one of them by face – a bit of a nightmare scenario. The key is in the research: on the tube on your way, Google all of the names on the list so you know precisely what your targets for the evening look like (they might have a drastic new hair style, plastic surgery, whatever).  Furthermore, get on Google News and make sure you know what the ‘big hitter’ VIPs in attendance have been up to recently – are they moving to London? Are they making a new film or album? What’s going on in their love life? The more background work you do, the better your final copy will turn out – simple as that.

 

5) MIND THE DETAILS

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A lot of diary work, for ES Magazine included, requires a bit of attention to the details of what happened at an event – who gave a speech and what did they say, what food and drink was there, who turned up and who was too busy, who was chatting and what rumours were being passed around? All this stuff is just as important to your job as the interviews with famous people, so make notes of all of them. If you don’t, your copy probably won’t make the cut, as your editor will have to do all the legwork after – so keep an eye on it.

 

And finally – GOOD LUCK! And make the most of every night.

My take on the fuss over the Katie Hopkins ‘cockroaches’ column

 

 

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A lot has been made in the mainstream media – and interestingly, mostly online, with a particular focus on it on Twitter – of a column written by Katie Hopkins in the Sun on the 17th April about asylum seekers during the ongoing humanitarian crisis.

In the column Hopkins, who seems to be willing to say anything in increasing levels of crescendo in order to maintain a flimsy grip on mainstream publicity, has (now infamously) described African migrants as “cockroaches” and “feral humans“.

Aside from the article itself being badly constructed, ill-judged and deeply distasteful, what I find more interesting are the reactions that have been flooding in about it, as a piece of journalism.

As all journalists know, under media law, “honest comment” is preserved by the Defamation Act 2013 – to protect the opinions of columnists. Yet Hopkins has breached this twofold – her article is neither “in good faith”, nor is it necessarily “based on fact”, a la the terms of the Act.

Hopkins has been subject to the kind of seething outrage usually reserved for genocide-mongers themselves: she has been reported to the police for “inciting racial hatred”, she has been openly criticised by a representative of the UN for inciting views that apparently amount to “propaganda”.

An excessive reaction

Meanwhile on social media, the response has been practically volcanic, with apoplectic tweets and Facebook messages flowing through network feeds over the past couple of days. Love her or hate her, Katie Hopkins knows how to get people wound up and create the kind of storms not seen since everyone hated Kony – and she’s not even really a journalist.

But as for me – I’ve been absolutely baffled by the whole furore. Why does anyone a) listen to Katie Hopkins, and b) take any notice whatsoever what she says? It is merely a column, an expression of opinion to be endorsed or otherwise, and Hopkins has a notable track record when it comes to being needlessly antagonistic and courting controversy.

In my opinion, the Sun were not wrong in publishing it – if anyone worries that the words scribed by someone in the middle pages of a tabloid are going to incite anyone to change their minds about migrants, their fears are gravely misplaced. Do these people not know that the Sun, on a typical day, is full of this kind of faux-outraged bile?

Social media is the cuprit again

From my point of view, it is yet another example of the ability of social media – with Twitter as a prime protagonist – to get people needlessly worked up about something that would otherwise, and in the past, not demand their attention. Things like this get shared, and spread, and soon everyone is talking about them – and everyone has an opinion.

No doubt the whole thing will die down within a couple of days, and we can all sleep peacefully again. Until Katie Hopkins writes another column, that is.

What I learnt from Production Weeks at City

Production weeks were an intimidating prospect right from the outset. Three weeks to make three original newspapers from scratch – to have the know-how to write and produce every part of a 16 page paper and take it all the way to print.

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In practice, it was immensely enjoyable as a project, and one of the most challenging yet rewarding elements of my entire time on the MA Newspaper Journalism course – even if I was utterly drained by the experience.

Starting out

The first week was all about finding our feet with Hackney Post. We decided on the tabloid format, which was inevitably going to be a challenge as only a chosen few of us had written in that style before the initial week.

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LIST: Best Heated Terraces in London

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London’s best heated terraces

(http://www.standard.co.uk/goingout/attractions/londons-best-heated-terraces-9920956.html?origin=internalSearch)

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The cold doesn’t mean having to be holed up in a dark bar for drinks this Christmas. Take advantage of the outdoor heating on these winter terraces. Gabriel Samuels reports from the festive front line.

The Boundary

The queues die down in the winter but the rooftop at the Boundary is as good in the winter (better even) when you can cosy up outside next to the “designer” heaters.

2-4 Boundary Street, E2, theboundary.co.uk

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Studying at a US university: the benefits

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(Published Telegraph 1/12/14)

With record numbers of UK students crossing the Atlantic to pursue higher education, Gabriel Samuels finds out why three current expats made the leap themselves.

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‘Narrow, uninspiring, excessively costly’: just a handful of the adjectives currently being used by critics to describe degrees offered by British universities.

Meanwhile, this year saw the largest increase in British students heading to America to pursue a degree in a decade, with a 21 per cent upsurge over the past 10 years.

With record numbers of UK students crossing the Atlantic, it is clear that many young people believe that the US offers a college experience that is a little more stimulating than anything back home.

Luke Barnes, a Londoner in his senior year at Columbia University, resolved to make the switch while in his final year at Kings College School, Wimbledon.

“I remember people at school deciding early exactly what they wanted to read – the medical students getting on one track, the history and arts people on another. I felt really constrained having to make that big decision at 17.

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“Children shouldn’t be afraid to seek help”: Susie Green, Mermaids UK

Susie Green is the Chair of Mermaids UK, a charity which offers support to transgender children and teens. She spoke to Gabriel Samuels about her experiences and the work undertaken by Mermaids.

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Susie Green, Chair of Mermaids UK

As a mother, Susie Green has had more previous experience understanding children with gender identity issues than most.

“When she was five, after we got home from school, my child came to me and told me she was in the wrong body, she said she wanted to be a girl.” Continue reading

The five best plays to catch in London this autumn

by Gabriel Samuels

Year on year, autumn in the West End always presents a hectic melee of brand spanking new theatrical productions fighting for your attention in the run up to Christmas. As trees shed their leaves and the frost of winter begins to set in, theatre fans flocks from all over the capital to nail a seat at the best productions on offer. But with so much talent treading the boards, how are you meant to know what to see and what its best to avoid? Make sure you get ahead of the pack with this quick guide to the finest new productions showing in London this autumn.

  • The Trials of Oscar Wilde, Merlin Holland

Follow: @OscarWildeTrial@TrafStudios

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Riding into West London on a tide of rave 5-star reviews, this dramatic realisation of the infamous trials of this country’s favourite dandy is simply unmissable. The play, written by Wilde’s grandson Merlin Holland, is funny, heart-wrenching and self-aware – with John Gorick starring as the beguiling Wilde.

Perfect if: you like thought-provoking, intelligent drama with a heart

At Trafalgar Studios from October 13. 

Click here to buy tickets

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