Dina Akass (nee Malik) was an immensely popular and well-known figure throughout Fleet Street and the world of women’s magazines. In the late Eighties and the early Ninties she made her name as a prolific ‘shifter’spending her days – and plenty of evenings – working as a news reporter on national newspapers from the News of the World to Today and the Sunday People.
But it was at The Sun where she really made her mark and is best remembered.
Dina was one of a large group of casual reporters working at the paper at that time. Her peers including George Pascoe Watson (now Sun political editor), Ruki Sayid (Daily Mirror consumer editor), Mary Comerford (TV Quick showbiz editor) and Tracey Kandohla (freelance).
Yet amid such talent it was Dina whose name everyone knew. She was without doubt a talented reporter, but there was much more to her success and popularity than that. Mirror editor Richard Wallace, who worked with her when he was showbiz editor at The Sun, explained: ‘It is no exaggeration to say she was one of the most good-hearted individuals you could ever care to meet and her sunny disposition and sheer joie de vivre were truly life affirming.”
We first met on my first day at The Sun. Like many new casuals I was in awe of Dina, but she generously showed me how to work the computer system and opened up her contacts book whenever I was stuck on a story.
Sense of fun
We soon became firm friends and when I married in 1999 Dina was my bridesmaid – determined to do the job, despite just having given birth and recently being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Her irrepressible sense of fun was legendary and often manifested itself in her stories. On one occasion she was sent to doorstep Eighties’ pop stars Mel and Kim. When she knocked at the door she was attacked by the family dog and needed hospital treatment. Undeterred she filed her story with the byline Dina Malik at Homerton Hospital – duly making a page lead the next day.
According to Piers Morgan, who worked with her on The Sun and then as editor on the Daily Mirror, it was typical of her style. ‘Dina was a tenacious, hard-working, and very talented journalist,’he said. ‘She was also terrific fun to work with.”
Everyone knew Dina, from the editor to the messengers. She chatted, gossiped and laughed her way around the office and out on jobs her innate goodness and charm saw her unusually forming friendships with many of those she interviewed.
As a result her contacts book was stuffed with the phone numbers of people willing to talk to her and help. After the birth of her eldest son Callum in 1994 she began freelancing for women’s magazines, specialising in case histories, where her packed contacts book made her stand out from the crowd.
As head of features at The Express I was suddenly asked to find a single lesbian mother-of-two, living on benefits in London, willing to be photographed for an urgent feature. I asked a couple of staff writers to look into it but they looked at me as if I was mad. I called Dina and typically by lunchtime she had found someone who fitted the bill and filed her copy.
Born in Tripoli, Libya to an English mother and Sudanese father, the family were forced to flee the country when Colonel Gaddafi came to power. Dina arrived in England aged eight and spent the rest of her childhood in Kent and after school joined the renowned Fleet Street News Agency. It was during this time she met her husband Bill Akass, who at the time worked for rival National News.
For those whose lives were touched by Dina she was a truly wonderful friend. Always the first to pick up the phone for a chat, she made – and kept – friends on every paper and magazine she worked at. It was Dina who organised the parties and weekly girls’ nights outs at the Wine Press, the tennis matches and holidays and kept everyone together.
She was diagnosed with MS in 1998. She gave birth to her second son Max the following year and returned to work for the now defunct Mirror magazine The Look – juggling work, motherhood and her illness with humour and determination.
Mirror executive Peter Willis, who edited The Look, recalled: ‘Dina had a great flair for spotting good stories and following them up, but she also had a fantastic spirit. She was genuine, upbeat – even at the onset of her illness – and could get the most unlikely people to talk to her.”
She died, aged just 46, at the Highgate Nursing Home close to her home in north London, leaving her two sons Callum and Max and her husband Bill Akass, editorial development director for News Group Newspapers.