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Geordie Greig

Greig at work at the Daily Mail headquarters in Central London.
Geordie Greig
by Delia von Neuschatz


“The most well-connected man in England,” “the most powerful and skillful networker of our time,” “a genuinely unstoppable force,” are just a few of the breathless descriptions bandied about in the press of 53-year-old newspaper editor Geordie Greig. Simultaneously rumored to be a potential candidate for the top job at Vanity Fair and at the hugely popular British tabloid, The Daily Mail, this indefatigable journalist, author, magazine editor and newspaper man is one to watch on both sides of the Atlantic.

Breakfast with Lucian, by Geordie Greig.
Greig currently helms the Mail on Sunday, the Sunday edition of the Daily Mail whose website is the third-most-visited newspaper site in the world, according to The New York Times. This is his latest in a string of high-caliber editorial gigs. Before joining the Mail on Sunday, Greig was the editor of the London Evening Standard, the editor of glossy Tatler magazine and before that, the Literary Editor of The Sunday Times.

In his spare time, this father of three writes books. His most recent is a biography of controversial artist Lucian Freud, who died in 2011 at the age of 88. Titled Breakfast with Lucian, the tome, as one reviewer put it, “is a frank record of a friend by a friend not wearing tinted spectacles but coolly capable of unraveling Freud’s extraordinarily complicated sexual relationships ...”

And there were many. Greig estimates that the artist had as many as 500 lovers, perhaps more, and there are 14 acknowledged children, but some put the total number of offspring closer to 30. In one year alone (1961), there were three born to three different mothers.
Lucian Freud poses with Alexi Williams-Wynn, a lover, for a photo entitled The Painter Surprised by a Naked Admirer, in his Holland Park Studio in 2005.
Freud with Greig at Clarke’s. In explaining his interest in art, the writer says: “I suppose in the end, the written word or the daub on a canvas or the molded piece of clay is the most permanent expression of what we do … You can never eradicate it … It will pass from one generation to the next.”
Greig had the privilege of knowing Freud for the last 10 years of the artist’s life, frequently breakfasting with him at the upmarket Kensington restaurant, Clarke’s. The relationship is the fruit borne of many years’ persistence on the part of Greig, who first encountered the artist’s work in 1978 at the age of 17. It was nothing less than a coup de foudre for the impressionable Eton schoolboy.

“When I first saw the exhibition — there were just 17 pictures hanging on the walls of a small gallery — it was one of those knock out moments of thinking how extraordinary, dynamic, exciting, edgy the experience was. The subjects were anonymous. They were provocative, psychologically interesting. There were so many questions asked by the pictures, but no answers given,” recalls Greig with wonder still all these years later.
Greig standing in front of a poster which was designed by Freud in an effort to recover a portrait the artist had painted of his friend Francis Bacon in 1952. The painting was stolen during an exhibition in Germany and has never been recovered. A 1969 Francis Bacon triptych of Lucian Freud sold for $142.4 million last year at Christie’s, making it the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction.
“So, I was just full of questions. This was the era of punk and this seemed more subversive, more edgy, more exciting than anything I had ever seen. So, being insatiably curious, I wrote a letter to him and got no reply. And I started a 20-year correspondence with him getting no reply. Essentially, I stalked him for about 25 years. And I wrote to other artists. I wrote to Francis Bacon, who eventually agreed to see me after I rang his gallery every week for six months. I wrote to David Hockney, who agreed to see me and so, I sort of circled him by seeing other people.”
David Hockney in Freud’s studio. Greig and Hockney became such good friends that the artist painted the editor’s portrait.
The only letter the artist sent his admirer before they met read: “The idea of giving you an interview makes me feel sick.” Luckily for the newspaper man, this was no deterrent. After arranging a New York photo shoot with Freud and his great friend, the painter Frank Auerbach, Greig finally got to meet his idol. He became a frequent breakfast guest of Freud’s soon thereafter.
Freud with Kate Moss in 2010.
“Lucian was far more interesting, far more electrifying and charismatic as he didn’t know how to do dull. He never did dull,” says Greig. A typical conversation would veer from recalling spats in the 1940s with Ian Fleming to “dating Greta Garbo to the best way to land a punch without breaking your thumb, to how he had popped into 10 Downing Street to see Gordon Brown, or had been at a nightclub with Kate Moss, or had sold a picture for an eye-watering sum,” writes Greig in Breakfast with Lucian. “He was witty, caustic and curious. Recitations of Goethe, Nöel Coward, Eliot and Yeats tumbled out.”
Freud’s portrait of a pregnant Kate Moss, aka “the girl with the £1 million tattoo” on account of the swallows the painter inked on the model’s back.
Also intriguing to the editor was the mix of high and low in “Freudland.” Sigmund Freud’s grandson “had aristocratic girlfriends while he was hanging out with criminals; was a family man in essence with many, many children, but didn’t live with his family; inhabited an essentially squalid studio and at the weekend, stayed in grand, stately homes.”
Lucian Freud in London in 1958 at the age of 35. In Breakfast with Lucian, we learn that the “Grand Old Man of British Art” was not the most likable of subjects. Obsessively secretive, often ignoring his children for years at a time, double- and triple-timing his mistresses, habitually turning against old friends, making drunken scenes in restaurants and uttering profoundly anti-Semitic remarks despite the fact that he was Jewish, did not make for an amiable fellow. The artist had even reputedly hired gangsters to threaten a potential biographer. Lucian Freud, ca 1990. Freud was “the only person conducting the orchestra for friends, lovers, muses, bookies, lawyers, art galleries,” says Greig. “He was the only person who chose when to see them. He never did anything he didn’t want to do. When someone is relentlessly selfish,” continues the biographer, “there are always casualties along the way. But, he was very honest and never made any bones about what his modus operandi was which was to do what he wanted. Those were the rules. And if you didn’t want to play, you could go away.”
Freud’s portrait of his bookie, Alfie McLean, who took a bet on the painter, accepting the artist’s canvases as payment for gambling debts. When McLean died in 2006, he owned 23 paintings by Freud — a collection worth an estimated $160 million. Freud had a love of horse racing and risk, gambling wildly in the earlier part of his career. When his work began commanding stratospheric prices after he signed up with New York dealer, William Acquavella (who, as a condition of taking Freud on, first had to settle $4.5 million of the artist’s gambling debts with McLean) Freud lost his relish for risk-taking. “Gambling is only exciting if you don’t have any money,” according to the artist.
In some ways, the same parallels can be drawn of Greig who is no snob and is good at the high-low. Born into what can only be described as a posh family, this Oxford graduate comes from a long line of royal courtiers. His paternal grandfather, Sir Louis Greig, a naval doctor from Glasgow, became very close to Prince Albert, later the Duke of York, later King George VI. Sir Greig is credited with not only saving the prince’s life when he operated on the sickly man’s debilitating tumor, but also with instilling the stammering invalid with reserves of much needed self-confidence.
Albert, Duke of York, on his wedding day with his bride, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, April 26, 1923.
Indeed, in The King Maker: The Man Who Saved George VI, Greig’s biography of his grandfather, the author credits Louis Greig with nothing less than shepherding the prince from cripplingly-shy schoolboy to respected constitutional monarch. The war hero and rugby champion also played cupid, helping unite the Duke of York with his beloved wife, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, aka the Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. It is no wonder that, when I asked Greig if the doctor in the movie The King’s Speech was based on his grandfather, he replied: “Oh no. My grandfather was more important than that.”
The Duke and Duchess of York with Louis Greig in the 1920s. Nicknamed “The Tonic” by the Duke’s father, King George V, on account of his infectious good humor and charm, Greig and the prince were virtually inseparable for many years.
“During one of my rare encounters with the Queen,” recounts Greig, “she said, [clasping her hands and intertwining her fingers] ‘Your grandfather and my father — they were so close.’”
The youngest of four children, Greig grew up in the English countryside in Hampstead, two hours west of London. His father, Sir Carron Greig, was a ship broker and the chairman of the Baltic Exchange, the stock exchange of the shipping world. “He was very clever, very modest, successful,” says Greig with obvious affection and pride. Greig takes his father’s philosophy — “Dull not to” as in “Should we fly to Brazil this weekend? Dull not to,” to heart.
Greig’s father, Sir Carron Greig. The businessman also served as a Gentleman Usher to the present Queen. “His charm lay in his modesty: despite his royal connections he had no airs, and took a genuine interest in everyone he met,” reads an obituary.
Upon graduating from Oxford in 1982, Geordie turned down a banking job in favor of becoming a crime reporter for a local newspaper. “Continental Illinois offered me a job starting on £15,000 a year and the South East London & Kentish Mercury in Deptford offered me one for £2,000 a year.” For Greig, who was determined to break into Fleet Street, the choice was clear. So off he went to become the lowest reporter at a small weekly paper in one of the poorest boroughs of London. “There were so many murders, we couldn’t put them in the paper,” he says.
The widely-feared East End gangster, Mad Frankie Frasier, spent 42 years in prison — half his life — for 26 offences. His first incarceration came at the age of 13 for stealing a pack of cigarettes. He earned the nickname ‘Mad’ Frankie after faking mental illness to avoid being called up to fight during WWII. Photo: Anthony Oliver.
It was while he was covering crimes that Greig’s social circle expanded in all directions. He recalls one day going from lunch with legendary gangster Mad Frankie Frasier, who promised to leave him his pliers in his will (the same ones he had notoriously used to extract the teeth of his victims), to having tea with Diana, Princess of Wales and his sister, Laura, one of Diana’s ladies-in-waiting.

When it came to his personal life, Greig went rogue there too. After all, it’s not every day that an English blue blood marries a seventh-generation Texan. “We met in 1993 at Lincoln Center in New York,” recalls Greig of his wife-to-be, Kathryn Terry. “I was an American correspondent [for The Sunday Times] and she was working at Sotheby’s. We were introduced by a writer named Andrew Solomon at a charity ball for the New York City Ballet. We went back to a friend’s apartment for a drink afterwards and my friend said to me, ‘Are you going to marry that girl?’ And I said, ‘You know, I just might.’ And we did.”
Greig with Kathryn, in London last year. “She’s beautiful and brilliant,” says Greig of his wife of 20 years.
The Greigs with their twin daughters Octavia and Monica and their son, Japser.
In Breakfast with Lucian, Greig describes Freud as someone whose “steel core of ambition was matched by a magical ability to charm.” By some accounts, the author could have been describing himself. “’What’s wrong with Geordie Greig?’” asks Maurice Saatchi [Charles Saatchi’s brother and co-founder of the advertising firm Saatchi and Saatchi] in a magazine interview last year. “‘Nothing. You only have to look at him to see how handsome he is, talk to him to realize how brilliant he is and watch him conduct a meeting to learn how charismatic he is. In short, he is a born leader.’” Greig remains tight-lipped about his future career plans, but it’s a safe bet that wherever this journalist/editor/author will land, it will be at the top.

Still, perhaps, one should expect the unexpected when it comes to this courteous Old Etonian turned crime reporter turned tabloid editor. The siren call of a novel experience in a far flung place may prove too “dull not to” answer.
Geordie Greig with Prime Minister David Cameron in Afghanistan earlier this year. In a recent Tatler magazine profile, filmmaker Hannah Rothschild remembers Greig from their student days: “’I first met Geordie in 1982 — riding his bike somewhat erratically through the streets of Oxford,’ she says. ‘I last saw him a few weeks ago getting into the back of a chauffeur-driven black Range Rover with tinted windows. That’s a pretty good upgrade and a pertinent reminder that, for all his charm and cultural leanings, Mr. Greig is a steely, determined individual and not to be underestimated.’” Photo: Andrew Parsons.



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© 2013 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/NewYorkSocialDiary.com