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May 13, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 11:19am

Lord Rothermere says privately-owned Daily Mail can ‘succeed beyond our wildest dreams’

By Bron Maher

Lord Rothermere has said that the Daily Mail can succeed globally “beyond our wildest dreams” after being taken private, in a speech to mark the title’s 125th birthday.

Speaking before 800 people on Thursday evening, Rothermere praised the Mail’s former editors and attacked “those who hate this country”.

Attendees at the event included Prime Minister Boris Johnson and a representative of the Ukrainian government.

The group was gathered at a party hosted by Lord and Lady Rothermere at Claridge’s in London to belatedly celebrate the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Daily Mail.

Rothermere told those gathered that his November 2021 decision to buy out the other DMGT shareholders and take the company private was a bid to “free it from the capricious short-termism of the City”.

He said that being publicly traded hindered his long-term vision to “spread our wings across the globe”, spearheaded by Mail Online.

Rothermere completed the deal to buy out DMGT’s public shareholders in December, in a deal estimated to be worth approximately £2.4bn. As well as the Mail and its sister the Mail on Sunday, DMGT owns the i, the New Scientist, Mail Online and Metro.

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Elsewhere in the speech, Rothermere praised Paul Dacre (who stepped down after 26 years as Daily Mail editor in 2018, but retains a role as editor in chief), as well as Geordie Greig (Daily Mail editor for three years to November 2021) and former Mail Online publisher  Martin Clarke.

In a rare public speech Rothermere also laid out his view of the Mail as a paper that “reveres” its readers, “stands up for decency and the traditional values” and called out what he called “the charlatans, the hypocrites and the cancellers”.

Lord Rothermere’s speech to mark 125 years of the Daily Mail in full

Well, we’ve finally made it.

After two Covid cancellations of this event, I’m absolutely delighted to welcome you all to celebrate our glorious milestone and wish the Daily Mail a very happy 125th birthday.

Prime Minister, we did think of having a birthday cake, but given this is a work event we decided to have beer and curry instead.

On a more serious note – and at the risk of committing lèse-majesté – it’s worth noting our party almost coincides with the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

So before saying any more, I’d like to raise a toast to the health of this remarkable woman, who has sacrificed her life to the monarchy.

It’s a great institution, which I believe protects all our freedoms, particularly those of Britain’s press and the vital role it plays in a healthy democracy.

You know, there’s a happy symmetry at work here. For I remember the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 as if it was yesterday.

I was ten, and my father had arranged for me to visit the Mail’s then home, New Carmelite House, to see the fireworks from across the river.

It was a magical night for a boy in short trousers. But the only thing I don’t remember were the fireworks.

Instead, I can recall with total clarity – I can almost smell it – the magic that was old Fleet Street.

The dirt and the clattering noise, the ink-smudged printers, the simmering, molten lead of the linotype machines.   

Anxious sub-editors – and, yes, some still wore green eye-shades – feverishly trying to beat the clock as they read stories upside-down on the stone. 

But the most magical thing of all was experiencing the palpable sense of shared purpose and mutual respect between the staff and my father. I was aware, even at that age, that this was more than just a business.

No: it was a unique culture, based on a relationship of trust and shared passion for print and journalism between the producers of the newspaper and the proprietor.

That heady evening was my epiphany. The relaunched Mail was still in a parlous state. The Express, the Mirror and The Sun were all individually selling far more newspapers than us. But that night I made a decision: to follow my father into the family business.

Today, our printing is computerised, giant robots rule the roost in our printing plants, and the Mail is the biggest selling paper in the United Kingdom, seven days a week. And Mail Online is hugely widely read and loved by millions of people across the globe. 

I cannot tell you how proud it makes me feel when I meet someone – either here or abroad – and witness how much they love the Daily Mail. That’s what makes it all worthwhile.

So, what is the enduring appeal of the Mail?   

To answer, let’s go back to the 4th May 1896 when brothers Alfred and Harold Harmsworth – just 29 and 32 years old –  risked every hard-earned penny they’d made on a single bet: the launch of the Daily Mail. 

They’d hoped to shift 150,000 copies on that first day but instead sold nearly 400,000, and soon were selling a million copies a day.

The Mail was so successful because Alfred understood in his very bones that the paper was there to serve the readers – not the other way round.

With his intuitive genius, he and his great editor Thomas Marlowe knew the kind of human interest journalism that would entertain those readers and, equally important, inform and enlighten them. 

But inevitably, Northcliffe’s detractors in the ruling class tried to denigrate his achievements. 

Lord Salisbury, the then-PM, sneered that the Mail was a newspaper “produced by office boys for office boys”.   

How stupendously he missed the point. 

Unlike him, the Mail never condescended its readers. Quite the opposite: it revered them.   

And what Salisbury failed to understand is that those “office boy” readers dreamt of becoming office managers, buying their own homes and giving their children better lives than they’d had. They were the backbone of modern Britain. 

But Alfred also understood that those office boys had wives who shared their husbands’ aspirations but, vitally, had their own interests too and wanted gender equality.  

Which is why he started the Mail’s and Fleet Street’s first womens’ page – a controversial innovation at the time that was to have a historical echo half a century later. 

Above all, Alfred was a superb news editor who believed that the Mail must hold people and institutions in power to account without fear or favour.

His credo was that news is “what somebody, somewhere, wants to suppress… All the rest is advertising.”

And Northcliffe’s spirit, I’d argue, still defines the Mail today. We still launch hugely successful campaigns, many of which change Britain for the better. We still break great stories and hold to account the corrupt, pompous, incompetent and immoral on both sides of the political divide.

More pertinently, we still seek to do our readers justice with every word we write. 

We articulate their anxieties and aspirations, give voice to the voiceless, and earn their loyalty day after day.

But we can also – from time to time – be their guilty pleasure with the “sidebar of shame”.

We are beholden to no one but our readers who love and respect our journalism. That is why we are a genuinely free press.   

And, however much those in power try, they can never, to their fury and frustration, control us. 

And finally, but crucially, Alfred and Harold understood that great newspapers need great journalists, free from managerial and commercial restraints – a lesson that so many Fleet Street owners have failed to learn.    

It would be impossible – and invidious – to name all the brilliant journalists and commentators who have made the Mail a byword for talent. 

Suffice to say that the Harmsworths have always prided themselves on employing – and, incidentally, over-paying – the most talented writers, columnists and commentators of their age and, significantly, many of them were women.

But let’s not forget the thousands of brave, tenacious and resourceful Mail reporters and photographers, and the brilliant sub-editors who turned their words and pictures into a remarkable first draft of history. 

My father said a newspaper is like an orchestra: everyone has a part to play.    

So tonight, I salute the whole orchestra, including every member of the editorial, managerial, printing, circulation, technology and advertising departments.  

From the bottom of my heart I thank you all. Without your perseverance, hard work and belief, we would not be celebrating tonight.  

And what of the great conductors? 

David English – who, with my father, saved a dying broadsheet and re-invented it as a mid-market compact aimed at women, just as Northcliffe had envisaged all those years before.  

Stewart Steven – who, with Peter Wright, made my father’s determination to have a successful Sunday paper a reality.   

John Leese, who invented You magazine and then edited the Evening Standard when it was a still-great paper.   

Geordie Greig, who edited the Mail on Sunday and Daily Mail for over ten years. 

But perhaps surpassing all our achievements – and this was our most challenging venture yet – [was] Mail Online, which, under the awesome Martin Clarke and his fantastic team have taken the Mail brand across the English-speaking world to become an international force. 

[Read more: Martin Clarke’s Mail Online leaving speech – ‘Being an editor makes you a monster’]

And throughout – always by my side – was Paul Dacre, the group’s longest-serving editor, who, in his 26 years, made the Mail the most successful and talked-about paper of its age. He is the greatest editor of his generation. 

Today, Northcliffe’s legacy is secure in the capable hands of two brilliant editors: Ted Verity at the Daily Mail and Danny Groom at Mail Online, and their teams of talented journalists and editors. 

In the increasingly shrill world of fake news and malign Twitter echo-chambers, I believe that the Mail’s values matter more than ever.

Which is why we must not be afraid to call out the charlatans, the hypocrites, the cancellers and those who hate this country, its culture and its past.  

We must not be afraid to stand up for decency and the traditional values that have stood the test of time. 

Yes, we must support equality and respect minority rights, but equally, we must never forget that majorities have rights too. 

And above all, we must passionately defend the family.

Our detractors like to portray us as small-minded little-Englanders. They could not be more wrong.  

We defended young soldiers appallingly betrayed by armchair generals during the Shell Crisis  in the First World War.   

We were the paper to stand up for Stephen Lawrence and expose institutional racism in the Metropolitan Police.   

[Read more: Former Daily Mail lawyer reveals how he justified convicting five suspects of murder on the front page]

We argued against the Iraq war. We campaigned against extraordinary extradition and for a London-born Muslim to be released from Guantanamo Bay.  We campaigned for interpreters to be allowed into Britain. 

We secured a ban on throw-away supermarket bags and plastic particles in the sea.

We raised £25m for PPE equipment and computers for kids at the height of the Covid crisis. 

And it was our readers who raised an astonishing £11m for Ukraine in only a few weeks. 

I would like to welcome Mr. Taras Krykun [minister-counsellor for economic affairs at the Ukrainian embassy in London] who is here tonight to represent Ukraine. Minister: the people of Britain stand shoulder to shoulder with you during this time, and we are lost in admiration for your peoples’ bravery in fighting such cruel tyranny. 

It is my strong belief, as demonstrated by Martin and his Mail Online teams in the US and Australia, that there is a strong appetite for our journalism and our values beyond Britain – a journey we have only just begun.  

We can build upon the power of Mail Online and the treasure house that is the Daily Mail’s journalism and spread our wings across the globe in a way that Northcliffe could only have dreamed of. 

Looking to that future, I realised some time ago that the long-term investment needed to realise this vision did not square with being publicly listed.

That is why I decided to take the company private and free it from the capricious short-termism of the City.  

But this was so much more than a business decision. It was a decision based on my belief in you, and your talent. On the eternal truths that are the Mail’s values, and the unique bond between the paper and its readers. 

We now have in place the foundations we need to succeed beyond our wildest dreams. 

I would like to thank the wives, husbands and partners of those who work at the Mail for putting up with our exhaustion and anti-social hours. Your support has been crucial to our success.

I would also like to say a very special thank you to my beautiful wife, Claudia, who passionately shares my love of and pride in the Daily Mail and its future.

Her partnership, love and strength of purpose have been my most cherished gifts, and together we have built a strong and loving family. I am immensely proud of all my children. 

And, of course, there is another remarkable woman I must pay tribute to.   

She can, it must be said, be gossipy, skittish, contrary, grumpy and sometimes plain wrong.

But she is also highly articulate, principled, uncompromising, brave and will fight like a tiger to protect her own and defend what she believes in.

Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen, will you raise a glass to the grand old first lady of Fleet Street on her 125th birthday: the Daily Mail. 


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