Anorak

Anorak | Madeleine McCann: Clarence Mitchell For Hire, PR And Nuts For Kate McCann’s Swimsuit

Madeleine McCann: Clarence Mitchell For Hire, PR And Nuts For Kate McCann’s Swimsuit

by | 1st, March 2009

MADDIE WATCH – Anorak’s at-a-glance guide to press coverage of Madeleine McCann, Kate McCann and Gerry McCann, featuring Clarence Mitchell for hire

Clarence Mitchell, the McCanns’ PR , is talking with the Indepedent. Now the McCanns are free – no longer suspects in their daughter’s disappearance – why is Clarnce Mitchell needed?

The Independent: “Clarence Mitchell: ‘I am a decent human being. If I can help them, I will’ – The ex-BBC journalist built a career on professional detachment. Then, he went to work for the McCanns.”

“There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever, nothing, to suggest that Madeleine has been harmed, let alone killed,” insists Clarence Mitchell, the former television reporter who speaks for the family of the most famous missing girl in the world. Her face is instantly recognisable. There is no longer any need to use her surname, McCann. And yet, nearly two years since she vanished from the Algarve, there is still no trace.

So what good all the PR? What good has all the media handling achieved? If the job was to find Madeleine McCann, hasn’t it failed?

This is hard to say to Mitchell – who began as a dispassionate adviser and then became a close personal friend of her parents – but there seems no evidence to suggest the three-year-old is still living. “Obviously,” he says, “as time goes on, Kate and Gerry are finding it harder and harder. But they are still firmly of the view that Madeleine is alive and out there to be found.”

And Clarence Mitchell, what does he think?

For months now they have turned down interviews, preferring to go through the many files handed over by the Portuguese police. There is another reason for their silence, too. “You reach a saturation point,” their spokesman admits. “People would say to us, ‘Oh, it’s tragic, but we’ve almost had enough of Madeleine.’ That was appalling to hear.”

The story is fading. Is a PR needed now more than ever? Is he looking for a new job? Is this why Clarence Mitchell is in interview?

In their silence, Clarence Mitchell is re-emerging as a public figure in his own right. On Friday he will speak at the Oxford Union, following in the footsteps of Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa and Kermit the Frog. Now he is giving his first personal interview since the days when he was a familiar face on the BBC. He is doing it at the West End offices of Freud Communications, which has hired him as a consultant. Dressed as if to broadcast, in a light brown suit and dark blue shirt, he has two BlackBerrys on his desk: one for Kate and Gerry, the other for everyone else.

Which one rings the most often?

Lately, he seems to be setting himself up as a public relations guru for families in distress, including that of 16-year-old Jimmy Mizen, who was stabbed to death in south London last year. The trial of Jimmy’s alleged killer begins at the Old Bailey a week tomorrow, and Mitchell will be outside, representing the bereaved parents. Once again, he will be on our screens.

Madeleine McCann made his name? Is this her legacy..?

“Everything I have seen of them, in all of the pressurised situations, shows me a family who are suffering the loss of their child,” he says. “Everything they are doing, behind the scenes, convinces me of that.”

Behind what scenes?

So far, so on message for a man who was hired in September 2007 to “salvage their reputations” in the wake of the McCanns being named as arguidos, or suspects, by the Portuguese police. Mitchell had already been with them for a month, as a civil service media expert sent to help the couple to cope with all the attention. But he returned in the pay of a millionaire supporter of the McCanns, leading a publicity campaign “to correct and balance the inaccurate coverage that was coming out and try to get everything back on an even keel … with a view to helping to get arguido lifted”.

Did he? Wasn’t it lack of evidence of any wrongdoing that led to the lifting of the McCanns’ arguido status? Can the PR take credit for it?

Mitchell never worked for Robert Murat, and he was cleared. He was libelled. He was innocent. What good did the PR do, of which Murat enjoyed none?

It worked, of course: they won £550,000 damages and a front-page apology from the Daily Express, and last summer the police cleared them of all suspicion. But Mitchell could not have known it would turn out that way. “It was,” he says, “gut instinct.”

It was illegal reporting.

They had left their very young children alone in a holiday apartment while they went to a tapas bar. He doesn’t duck that, even if the response has been smoothed by repetition. “They made a mistake at the time; they weren’t with her when it happened. They will always regret that, God forbid, possibly for the rest of their lives.”

In media terms, he says, Madeleine was “a perfect storm: her age, her appearance, the location, the parents…” Columnists wrote about “people like us”. Picture editors loved Kate, to an extraordinary degree. “It would be sad if it wasn’t laughable: Kate was finding herself in Nuts or whatever lads’ magazine’s top 10. You think, ‘This is ridiculous.’ But they can’t help how they look.”

But they can help how they are portrayed, right?

There’s no truth, then, in the report that he tried to get Kate to be photographed in a swimsuit? “Utter bollocks.” Gerry suggested it without realising the implications, he says, and was then persuaded otherwise. “A good example of facts being distorted. Completely, 180-degree wrong.”

And Clarence?

Mitchell had a home in Bath with his wife and children, two girls and a boy who were aged 10, eight and one at the time. Why go back to Portugal? “We had become friends. There was an emotional drive. I felt they had been the victims of a heinous crime and very badly wronged in the way stories had appeared.”

For sure they were. But how did he shape that? What good is all the PR? What has all the PR achieved?

There was also his response as a father. “I have never had to analyse it like this before … but yes, this was every parent’s nightmare, my own included.”

Can only fathers understand the pain of losing child? As for every parent’s worst nightmare, the media has moved on

These days Mitchell gets 40 per cent of his former salary as a retainer from the Find Madeleine Fund. Kate is said by relatives to spend hours with the files at home in Rothley, Leicestershire, while her twins are at nursery. Gerry, devotes evenings to the case, after days as a consultant at Glenfield Hospital.

And…?

“Sadly, the files have not revealed any substantial new leads,” says Mitchell. “And sadly, they have confirmed a lot of what Kate and Gerry feared: that things haven’t been done properly in certain areas, and certain things hadn’t been followed up.”

Which is why they hired their own detectivestwice.

The detective agencies they hired are no longer on the case. Have a dozen British former detectives and security service agents been employed instead, as reported? “I can’t go into details, because the investigators don’t wish me to. The investigation is on a smaller scale, but just as relevant.”

And..?

There is still a huge amount of material to work through: such as more than 3,000 “psychic tip-offs. Any verifiable fact in them – and some are very detailed – has to be checked”.

The psychics. The psychic locator. The psychic barber.

Meanwhile, his new life involves media training for corporations as well as advising people such as the mother of Scarlett Keeling, who was murdered in Goa, and the Mizens. “I do it pro bono, for free.”

Why?

“Because these people came to me in the direst of situations, with their children dead. I’m not going to say no. Nor am I going to say, ‘I’m sorry about your loss. Here’s my fee.'” Others would. “It’s a non-starter. I am a decent, caring human being. If I can help them, I will.”

Works for free?

Yes, but isn’t he using this free work to build the kind of reputation that made him attractive to Freud? “Not deliberately so. Honestly.”

Says the PR…



Posted: 1st, March 2009 | In: Madeleine McCann, Reviews Comments (62) | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink