Is Richard Desmond the new Murdoch? Many lips were curled when he acquired Express Newspapers in November 2000. People said that he had borrowed too much money. It was suggested that as a man whose fortune was built on pornography he knew next to nothing about running national newspapers. In some quarters he was dismissed as a foul-mouthed vulgarian who would be unable to halt the long decline of the Daily and Sunday Express.
Nearly three years later Mr Desmond is taken more seriously. Largely as a result of ferocious cost-cutting, he has increased the profits of Express Newspapers, last year pocketing nearly £21 million for himself. The Daily Express has been stabilised, and is even selling a few more copies. By upping its quotient of tit ‘n’ bum, the Daily Star has added more than 15 per cent to its circulation over the past year. The owner of Big Ones and Asian Babes has become a frequent visitor to No. 10, where he is welcomed by that broad-minded Christian, Tony Blair. People now speculate that Mr Desmond might bid for Trinity Mirror, which publishes the Daily Mirror, as well as other national and many regional papers. (He has recently disavowed any interest in the titles.) The current gossip is that Mr Desmond is eyeing up the Daily and Sunday Telegraph in the hope that they might one day come on the block.
He is also concentrating a few minds at Daily Mail and General Trust, which publishes among its many titles the London Evening Standard and the freesheet Metro. (I should remind readers that I write a column for the Daily Mail. I have spoken to no one at DMGT in preparing this article.) Mr Desmond is preparing to launch a London freesheet, which might damage the Evening Standard and Metro.