Top publicist Cliff Maxwell looks on proudly as his latest protégé, former reality TV star Mandy Hobbler, staggers down the catwalk at a London fashion show, a skimpy bathing suit displaying her emaciated body, ravaged by weeks of chemotherapy, to good effect. “It’s ‘cancer chic’,” he explains. “Forget ‘size zero’, this’ll be all the rage next season Trust me, this time next year everyone will be going around with bald heads and trailing drip feeds on stands.” Pausing only to vomit over the edge of the catwalk, Hobbler, virtually bald as a result of her treatment for terminal cancer, exits the stage to rapturous applause from the audience of celebrities and journalists. “You see, I told her this would be the making of her, that she should see her diagnosis as an opportunity rather than as a setback,” he exclaims, beaming broadly. “It’s like I said, all she had to do was ride the wave of public sympathy, and the magazine and TV deals would come rolling in! The media loves nothing better than a tear-jerking tragedy!” Maxwell’s strategy with Hobbler has been a spectacular success, boosting the twenty-eight year old former Celebrity Love Island contestant, (she qualified on the basis of having once styled Francis Rossi’s hair), from virtual unknown to household name in only a few months. “There’s no question that Max Clifford has been an inspiration to me – when I saw how he’d resurrected that Jade Goody’s career I realised that terminal illness was the way ahead in the publicity game,” he says. “I’d had Mandy on my books for years, but apart from a couple of mini-mart openings, her career was going nowhere. To be honest, I was on the brink of dropping her when, by an amazing stroke of luck, she found she was dying!” However, many feel that Hobbler’s illness was a little too fortuitous, and suspicions have been raised that Maxwell is somehow behind his client’s cancer. Indeed, one national newspaper has already accused the publicist of irradiating Hobbler by slipping radioactive barium into her tea during a business meeting. “Absolute nonsense,” he retorts. “They’re just trying to run a spoiler because they lost out in the auction for the rights to her wedding.” Maxwell concedes that Hobbler’s new found fame is likely to be short-lived, the latest medical prognosis giving her six weeks to live at the outside, but maintains that this is simply all the more reason for her to cash in while she can. “It’s no different than other professions with relatively short careers – like footballers or models,” he says. “They have to make the most of it and sign up to as many endorsements and advertising campaigns as they can before their knees give out or their boobs begin to sag.”
Despite the natural sympathy generated by serious illness, Maxwell claims that it isn’t always easy to translate this into hard cash. “It was always going to be tricky – just being terminally ill isn’t enough in itself to get the headlines,” the publicist opines. “You need all the extras – distraught spouse and traumatised kids, for instance – to really maximise the misery and tug at the public’s heartstrings.” Consequently, a whirlwind romance and fairy tale wedding to a minor soap star, followed by the adoption of two Bulgarian orphans, was hastily arranged by Maxwell. “That really set the ball rolling – we sold the rights to the wedding to Alright! magazine for a small fortune,” he recalls. “Just as the public were choking back their tears over the beautiful tragedy of the doomed romance, we hit them with a TV documentary about the adoption!” Most controversially, the publicist has sold the exclusive television rights to her death to a satellite TV broadcaster. “Their cameras will be following her all through her inevitable physical decline, right up to the moment she actually kicks the bucket,” he says. “Every moment of the painful deterioration of her health will be captured live and in high definition.” Not surprisingly, Maxwell’s tactics have drawn fierce criticism from many quarters, with accusations that he is trying to profit from the misfortune of his client, and that the subsequent invasion of her privacy has pushed good taste to the limits. “Surely someone’s last moments of life should be private? Can it be that years of reality TV stripping away people’s privacy have desensitised audiences to the point that only watching the sickness and suffering of others can give them a vicarious thrill?” asks broadsheet newspaper columnist John Gropeworthy. “As for adopting those children – haven’t they been traumatised enough by the loss of their real parents, without being dislocated to a foreign country and forced to watch a complete stranger die?” Maxwell has no time for such criticisms. “Look, this is Mandy’s last chance to achieve her dream of fame, who are we to deny her that? This publicity campaign was her choice, I’m just managing it for her,” says the publicist, who denies that either he or his client are motivated purely by financial considerations. “We’re providing a public service here, letting people see the reality of terminal illness, warts and all. Letting them see that, unlike soap operas, there are no happy endings. Perhaps that’s what is making these people uncomfortable – Mandy’s story reminds them of their own mortality.”
Maxwell – real name Paul Crapwell – explains that he has long been a fan of Max Clifford, even before the publicist’s inspirational management of the demise of one-time Big Brother star Jade Goody. “From the first time I saw him on the telly, I knew that this was the career for me. He showed that someone with no particular talent themselves could become famous simply by making celebrities out of other complete nobodies,” enthuses the forty-five year old former wages clerk, who even changed his name in tribute to the publicist. “There’s no doubt about it – he opened the world of celebrity up to the ordinary person on the street. After all, why should a lack of any apparent talent be a bar to fame and fortune?” Maxwell, who first gained notoriety for running a ‘School for Scandal’, where he advised ambitious, but talentless, young women on how to gain celebrity status by breaking into the hotel rooms of Premiership footballers, second rate pop singers, and daytime television personalities before drugging and climbing into bed with them, denies that his methods have crossed accepted boundaries for publicists. “I merely facilitate the opportunities for my clients – I can’t help it if the security employed by the so-called celebrities they target is so slack and corruptible that they can get caught in bed with some naked jailbait by the paparazzi,” he says. “As far as I’m concerned it is the duty of any self-respecting press agent to go to any lengths to get their client into the papers. I mean did anyone criticise Alistair Campbell when he arranged for Cherie Blair to get pregnant again in order to provide Tony Blair with a feel good story for the press when was Prime Minister? Damn it, he even offered to impregnate Cherie himself if it would help.” Former Labour Press Secretary has categorically denied that any such incident ever occurred, describing Maxwell’s claims as ‘ludicrous’. Meanwhile, police have confirmed that they are planning to speak to the publicist over the allegations that he was responsible for Hobbler’s illness. “Obviously, we can’t do anything until she actually pops her clogs and we charge him with murder,” explained a police spokesperson. “But hopefully that won’t be long now – his latest press release says she may only have days to go.” Maxwell has confirmed that he has already sold the exclusive image rights to his arrest to a tabloid newspaper.