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  • Forget love, all you need is a good spin doctor
  • By Annabel Crabb, London
  • The Age
  • 09/08/2006 Make a Comment
  • Contributed by: admin ( 61 articles in 2006 )
Former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney and wife Heather Mills in happier times.
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IT MAY be the greatest show in which Sir Paul McCartney is destined to star.

His divorce from Heather Mills McCartney has rapidly outgrown its modest-sounding advance publicity, in six weeks ballooning into a screaming, whirling free-for-all.

Sir Paul has spent much of his life clutched to the bosom of his homeland, but the airlessness of the embrace has always been associated with adulation. Now he's battling to retain his benign national image against an adversary who knows him better than just about anyone and doesn't like him much any more.

The constituent elements of the relationship breakdown are pitifully banal. Lady McCartney, according to Sir Paul's champions, is argumentative and rude to his staff, and his formal affidavits cite her "unreasonable behaviour" as the trigger for the divorce. But according to her backers, Sir Paul turned out - after their fast-paced courtship - to be boring and tight with money. These are all disclosures from the past 10 days.

When the couple announced their separation on May 17, it was accomplished with treacly avowals of mutual respect and regret. When the press speculated about the fate of the £850 million ($A2.1 billion) McCartney fortune, the singer sprang into action on his website, defending his wife against predictions that she was likely to prove grabby.

Having girded himself for marriage with nothing so indelicate as a prenuptial agreement, he maintained there was "not an ounce of truth" in the widespread suspicion that she had married him for his money, insisting: "She is a very generous person who spends most of her time trying to help others in greater need than herself."

Then his lawyers took over. Sir Paul has engaged two people of note: Nicholas Mostyn, QC, an English silk who widely goes by the name "Mr Payout", and Fiona Shackleton, whose satisfied divorce clients include the Prince of Wales. The leakage of details from their snappily assembled claim (including the observation about Lady McCartney's rudeness) seems to have acted as the accelerant for a blaze of exchanges through the tabloid press, each more spiteful and pointless than the last.

Last week it was reported that Lady McCartney had reneged on an offer to settle for £10 million. She was then pictured moping at a Madonna concert in Saturday's Daily Mirror, which reported she was feeling "abandoned". By Sunday, the exchange of fire had intensified.

Sir Paul's champions reported that she had drained more than £1 million from their joint account in the past month, while Lady McCartney's representatives accused the singer of writing a legal letter of reprimand over three half-bottles of cleaning product removed by her nanny from one of his houses. According to other reports, Sir Paul has changed the locks on the couple's London home and is callously denying her the use of his helicopter for doctors' appointments.

Their child, Beatrice, is the only detail still routinely pixelated out of an increasingly forensic media representation of a profoundly messy ordeal. How is it that so much can be written about a divorce when the Judicial Proceedings (Regulation of Reports) Act 1926 rigorously prevents newspapers from printing any material adduced in a divorce case beyond the basics of names, occupations and resolutions? Under this legislation, bolstered by the 1967 case of the Duke of Argyle versus the Duchess of Argyle, one partner can also stop the other from blabbing about the marriage.

But as Duncan Lamont, media partner in the London firm Charles Russell pointed out this week, there is an extremely commodious loophole in the 1926 law: if both parties are feeding out gobbets of information in a targeted PR war, the law is not best placed to help. And for couples like the McCartneys, whose courtship and marriage were conducted substantially in the public eye, there is a further practical exemption.

"The obligation to keep marital secrets continues after divorce," Mr Lamont wrote in Monday's Guardian newspaper.

"But where, as here, a married couple have regarded their relationship as being in the public domain, a court will not grant an injunction to either.

"Strangely, this limitation on the Argyle case came about when ex-Beatle John Lennon was refused an injunction to stop publication of his ex-wife's memoirs about their marriage in 1978!"

Lennon, like Sir Paul, was viewed with such jealous possessiveness by his public that no woman could ever win complete approval as a match. Even the saintly vegetarian Linda McCartney was only forgiven shortly before her death for the couple's collaborative project, Wings.

Lady McCartney may be a vegetarian, but she is demonstrably no saint - and, as is now clear, she is not likely to disappear without a struggle.

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