The more things change.
It's fair to say that I am not predisposed to like Tulisa Contostavlos. If you want a handy summation of the musical apocalypse of the past decade, then listening to N-Dubz, Contostavlos's former group, will soon bring you up to speed. Naturally, once N-Dubz split up, Simon Cowell decided that Tulisa would the perfect addition to the X Factor judging panel, having previously given such duties to those other fountains of perpetual talent, Dannii Minogue and Sharon Osbourne. Getting critiqued by Gary Barlow is one thing; being told that you need a bucket to carry a tune by Cowell and the others has always struck me as just a trifle rich.
Seeing as the X Factor has always been equal parts humiliating the gullible and hyperbolically praising fairly good karaoke singers only for them to be dropped from Cowell's record label a year later, some will have doubtless come to the conclusion that the entrapment of Contostavlos by the News of the World's, sorry, the Sun on Sunday's (®Roy Greenslade) Mazher Mahmood is something of a comeuppance. This though would be the conclusion of a pretty heartless bastard, especially as it seems we now have something of an insight into just how far the Sun and Mahmood went to gain Contostavlos's trust before then performing the classic sting of asking if she could get some drugs for her new best friends.
Last Sunday's People (yes, I know) carried a report claiming that as well as being caught out in the drug sting, Contostavlos had also been fooled into believing that she was to play the leading role in a Bollywood film charting the journey of a young woman from England to India. The hoax was so sophisticated that it had gone on for months, involving Contostavlos being flown by private jet to America, where she also met some of her supposed co-stars. While the People doesn't explicitly say that the hoax and the sting are connected, it most certainly would explain just why it was that Contostavlos came to be so trusting of those who were secretly filming her, and also why she was so inclined to boast about her contacts. And if it isn't connected, then either the story's horrendously inaccurate, or someone's got hell of a lot of money to burn on trolling a celebrity.
It would also fit in precisely with Mahmood's recent modus operandi. Before the News of the Screws was sadly sacrificed so that Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton could stay in their jobs for another couple of weeks, Mahmood and his team had carried out a similarly elaborate sting in an effort to prove the snooker player John Higgins was prepared to fix matches. As revealed by the Sporting Intelligence website, the Screws set up a professional looking website designed to fool Higgins' manager Pat Mooney, who had already been plied with liberal amounts of alcohol, before flying both Higgins and Mooney to Ukraine, where they were swept through customs apparently thanks to the influence of their hosts. The only problem was that Higgins felt something was wrong, imagining he could have got mixed up with the Russian mafia, and so despite the Screws' best efforts was non-committal to the proposed arrangement, as the independent tribunal later ruled.
Clearly, to fool Contostavlos required even greater extravagance and promises of riches. Even then she didn't do what Mahmood obviously wanted her to, which was get the drugs and hand them over herself. Instead she introduced the Sun to a friend who did the deal instead. Naturally, for this truly heinous offence Contostavlos was promptly arrested by the Met's finest, who have always had a friendly relationship with the reporter who claims to have helped secure the convictions of hundreds of crims thanks to his good works. If you're thinking there's a certainly irony to how the Sun predicted and then covered the arrest, both with front pages, while it devotes little in the way of space to the court appearances of its own reporters, then clearly you hate our great tradition of press freedom.
If anyone had been under the illusion that things would change after Leveson, then hopefully this will have fully shattered such notions. Subterfuge was only ever deemed permissible under the old PCC code if the material could not be obtained through other means, while fishing expeditions were expressly prohibited. There is no other way to describe Mahmood's methods than as entrapment.
And for what? To boost circulation ever so slightly? To put the jumped up Tulisa back in her place? To show that this "role model" is as hypocritical as all the rest? Pop star in knowing someone who deals drugs shock! It is truly pathetic gotcha journalism that interests the easily amused and bitter for a day, then it's gone. Contostavlos meanwhile is said to be devastated, as you might expect, and hasn't tweeted since the 31st of May. Last year she was praised for the way she responded to the release of a video which showed her performing a sex act on an ex-boyfriend. Despite it making clear that he has a grotty little nob, it was Contostavlos who was widely mocked, including by other celebrities. Last week the Sun headlined a follow-up piece "TULISA BLOWS IT AGAIN". It won't be much of a comfort to her, but it's undoubtedly the case that Mahmood too will mess up again, and hopefully this time he won't be able to carry on just as before.
(The Sun incidentally has denied most of the People's story and said it was false to say it "had spent as much as £100,000" on the investigation. £99,000 then, probably.)