Geordie Greig first encountered Paul Dacre in the mid-1980s when he was working casual shifts at the Daily Mail. Dacre, the news editor at the time, was initially unimpressed by the old Etonian cub reporter and allegedly declared Greig “hadn’t got the Daily Mail sparkle”.
Thirty years later, Greig has been announced as the incoming editor of the newspaper and given the task of “detoxifying” the Daily Mail following Dacre’s long reign. Attention is focused on whether Greig – a remain supporter whose Mail on Sunday warned that a vote for Brexit would make the UK “marginally freer” but “significantly poorer” – will change the tone of what has become one of the most rabidly pro-Brexit news outlets in the country.
Those hoping the paper is transformed into a straightforwardly pro-EU outfit are likely to be disappointed. Instead, it is more likely Greig will drop some of the newspaper’s more extreme campaigns – and perhaps some of its most rightwing columnists – in an attempt to soften its tone.
“He’s a Notting Hill Tory,” said one former colleague. “He’s very international, he’s very pro-Europe. He’s just like David Cameron and George Osborne.”
The appointment is the latest triumph for a journalist who has mastered the media industry’s behind-the-scenes politics to rise to the top of the newspaper world.
Greig entered the industry after graduating from the University of Oxford in the mid-1980s, turning down a career in banking to become a Deptford-based reporter on the Kentish Mercury. At the same time his sister was working as a lady-in-waiting for Princess Diana, meaning Greig would go from interviewing south London gang leaders over lunch to tea with royalty.
He later joined the Sunday Times, where he spent 12 years as arts correspondent, New York correspondent and then literary editor, before moving on to the upper-class society magazine Tatler in 1998.
Greig broke into the world of newspaper editors when in 2009 he accompanied Evgeny Lebedev, the offspring of a Russian oligarch, to an exhibition at the National Theatre of photographs of early Chekhov productions.
While there he suggested to Lebedev that Lord Rothermere, at that point the owner of both the Daily Mail and the London Evening Standard, might be willing to sell his London paper. That same evening he introduced the pair to each other over dinner.
Following an enthusiastic response from Evgeny … the talks to buy the Standard started
“Over saki and sushi, Lord Rothermere and I began guarded conversations – out of the Lebedevs’ hearing – over the possible sale and potential new owners of the Standard,” he wrote in 2009. “Following an enthusiastic response from Evgeny and a quick call to his father in Moscow, the talks to buy the Standard started.”
Having introduced Lebedev to the idea of buying the newspaper, he then worked with investment bankers to conclude the deal, ultimately being rewarded with the editorship, famously apologising for his newspaper’s coverage of London under his predecessor in the job.
Unlike Dacre, he was a regular at parties and often appeared in diary columns; at one event the PR man Matthew Freud allegedly threw a cocktail at Greig in protest at the editor’s coverage of his wife’s business.
In 2012 he left to become editor of the Mail on Sunday, aided by a friendship with Lady Rothermere, the proprietor’s wife. As editor he was relentlessly pro-Conservative but stuck to an anti-Brexit line and adopted a notably softer stance on social issues than the Daily Mail.
And while Dacre has been a strident critic of the BBC, complaining in a lecture in 2007 that it was a “monolith” pursuing “cultural Marxism”, Greig has struck a more emollient tone.
“I’ve a great fondness for many things the BBC provides,” Greig told Campaign in 2015. “But if I were in charge, would I see there was room for cuts? Of course I would. But the BBC should be publicly funded.”
During his second year in the job he faced one of the biggest challenges to his career when he was forced to apologise after a Mail on Sunday journalist gatecrashed a memorial event of the then Labour leader Ed Miliband’s uncle, allegedly attempting to obtain information from grieving relatives. In response, Greig suspended two journalists and used a public statement to make it very clear the “reporter was sent without my knowledge”.
At the time Nicholas Coleridge, Greig’s former boss at Condé Nast, the owner of Tatler, described him as “alert, mischievous, courteous, perfectly mannered, with a deadly eye”. He said: “He is 50% courtier, 50% old-school hack – and equally adept in both roles.”
Although Greig is known to check Twitter, he has only ever sent one tweet and is perceived to be a relative technophobe. Instead he prefers to network by attending nighttime parties with members of London society.
Other journalists who have worked with Greig suggest it will take some time for him to adapt to the rigours of a daily paper.
“The biggest challenge Geordie will have is taking up the mantle of a campaigning and investigative journalist,” said one. “The late nights will be a challenge for a man who would often quietly disappear from the Mail on Sunday office as soon as it went off stone.”
Married to an American woman, he has three children, including Jasper, who has recently followed in his father’s footsteps and become Tatler’s London editor.
Greig has never been shy of his social connections. In 2011 he published The Kingmaker, the story of his grandfather’s close friendship with George VI, the father of the Queen. The pair even competed together at Wimbledon, with footage from the era showing their comprehensive straight-sets defeat in the first round of the men’s doubles competition.
Greig also wrote a biography of Lucian Freud, based on breakfasts he had with the artist, and sold the film rights to Harvey Weinstein. It never made it to the cinema screen.