Like them or loathe them tabloid papers are part of the fabric of British society but what is it like behind the scenes? In her new book Tabloid Girl, former Red Top hack Sharon Marshall reveals how she left her morals at the door to become a journalist. Sharon is a great storyteller and regales us with stories such as how she snuck onto the set of Friends by acting as catering and did such a good job at infiltrating the film shoot that she can be seen in the Ross and Emily wedding scene – all to have her editor drop the story. Hiring a male escort, attending wife swapping parties and kidnapping Jade Goody’s mum were all in a days work for the girl who was only as good as her next story. Terrified of getting sacked and eager to show her family and friends that she was succeeding in the big smoke, she put romance and common sense aside to play with the big boys… until she realised that winning in the world of tabloids was losing in life.
Belle spoke to Sharon about what it was really like working for a tabloid newspaper and what her parents thought of her outlandish antics!
So the book has sold-out already…
“I was so thrilled – it was kind of good and kind of bad because they sold out of all the stock by Saturday afternoon but they are printing more. It shows that people love to get the gossip but are also interested in what’s behind it. It’s funny because The Guardian did a review basically saying I had made the whole thing up where as anyone who has worked for a tabloid at any point is saying ‘Oh that’s so true’!”
Do friends outside the industry still think you had a glamorous job or do they get it now?
“When you’re working for a tabloid you don’t think it is that shocking, you go ‘yeah this person is going out dressed as a cow’, or ‘that one is going to a lapdancing joint’, you know just another day in the office but to people outside the industry say: ‘You did what?’ ”
“The amount of power that the tabloid papers have! If you take the election for example the papers were dictating how to vote and actively bringing down the government but some newspapers don’t even trust their journalists to allow them kettles in the office!”
What did your parents think of your antics in the book?
“My parents are banned from reading it. On the last page of the book I say to them can you please just read this page and nothing else and I said to them please don’t read the book there are some things that I just don’t want you to know that I did. I they kind of knew some of it as I would phone in tears after coming out of vice dens or after death threats so they knew I was doing horrible things. I know that they will eventually read it and I just hope that they like it!
“My fiancé has read it but he’s a soldier, he’s seen worse. Someone once said to me that it is only other tabloid journalists that get what it is like to be a hack but squaddies get it too. They have that gallows sense of humour.
You studied journalism, did it prepare you for the rigours of tabloid life?
“Media journalism courses do not prepare you for the reality what being a journalist is really like and all these people doing journalism courses don’t have the faintest clue about what it is really like. So I am just telling them what it is really like and if you get to the end of the book and still want to be a tabloid journalist then it’s the career for you – just bring your own cow costume.”
How is working in TV different?
“Everyone talks about TV being immensely competitive but it is nothing like newspapers. TV is ten times nicer. I love that you have editorial control because it is live TV. The biggest difference that I found was that as soon as you get into the studio and meet the people you are talking about, you realise that they are human and you’re seeing the effect that negative press can have on them, it makes you utterly incapable of saying or doing anything negative. It is a lot more honest. And also it enables me to sometimes be able to stand up and say I know that this person is being unfairly done over by the tabloids and the reason that I know that is because of this. I can spot a made up hack of a story at 50 paces now.
[Picture credit: Stewart William]