Coinciding roughly with the centenary of Northcliffe’s death, the function at the Royal Geographical Society in London was preceded by a lecture from historian Andrew Roberts, who has written a biography of the Mail owner’s great-granduncle.
During his opening remarks – preceded by a swig from a pale ale – Rothermere issued thanks to former Mail editor Geordie Greig for coming up with the idea for the book, which was published in August. Greig, who presumably pitched the idea prior to his removal from the editor’s chair in November 2021, was not in attendance on the night.
In his brief speech Rothermere paid tribute to Northcliffe, saying: “He continues to be the soul of our newspaper to this day.”
The Victorian mogul is generally credited with creating the style of popular mid-market journalism that still typifies the Mail, and gives his name to the paper’s longtime home Northcliffe House (though the building was recently vacated for renovations). In a formulation likely familiar to modern Mail readers, Roberts said: “There were three things, Lord Northcliffe said, which are always news – health things, sex things and money things.”
At the peak of his career Northcliffe owned 40% of the British newspaper market, including The Times, The Observer, the Mail and the Daily Mirror – the last of which he co-founded with his brother, the first Lord Rothermere (Harold Harmsworth). He was active in politics, having directed Britain’s international propaganda efforts during World War One and openly using the Mail’s weight to champion his pet causes at home. Not as right-leaning as his later Nazi-sympathising brother, Northcliffe’s politics were nonetheless nationalist, imperialist and anti-Semitic, Roberts said.
When Northcliffe died without legitimate children in August 1922 his empire passed to Harold. The current Lord Rothermere is the fourth holder of the title.
Following Roberts’ talk the crowd was ushered upstairs to a boozy reception. Among the guests that stuck around was former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre – now editor-in-chief of Mail parent company Associated Newspapers – who was seen in amused conversation with former Brexit minister and press freedom campaigner David Davis.
Also in the mix was Paul Zwillenberg, DMGT’s chief executive of six years and Rothermere’s former college roommate. Zwillenberg resigned at the end of September, with Rothermere taking over his job following the company’s stock market de-listing, but remains a senior advisor at DMGT.
Rothermere (né Jonathan Harmsworth) remained a visible presence throughout the reception, in no small part because of his towering height. Harmsworth senior was assisted in working the room by his son and heir apparent Vere Harmsworth, who is learning the family trade by working in business development at DMG Media.
Also in attendance: Mail Newspapers editor Ted Verity and his wife Joanne; Mail on Sunday editor David Dillon; Mail Online editor Danny Groom; Metro editor Deborah Arthurs; DMG Media editor emeritus Peter Wright; Spectator editor Fraser Nelson; former Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore; Secretary of Defence Ben Wallace; former Foreign Secretary Priti Patel; Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting; Lords Communications and Digital Select Committee chair Baroness Stowell; Lord Gilbert; Lord Soames; media analyst Claire Enders; and GB News presenter and Mail Online columnist Dan Wootton.
You can read Rothermere’s remarks from the night below.
“Thank you very much for joining us here tonight.
“It is just over 100 years since Alfred Harmsworth’s death. He has been an inspiration to newspapermen and even one or two international media moguls for over a century.
“But he has a very intimate place among the people who still look after his legacy at the Daily Mail. He continues to be the soul of our newspaper to this day. And from a personal point of view, I have grown up listening to stories about Alfred’s adventures and exploits – many heroic, some scandalous – but he, like his newspaper, always entertaining.
“So, it is a great pleasure to honour and thank such an esteemed historian in Lord Roberts for bringing him back to life.
“I also want to thank Geordie Greig, whose idea it was to have a new biography 100 years after his death; to Vivian Harmsworth and Peter Wright for opening up the family and the company’s archives and helping Andrew navigate them; and to everyone else who played such a major role in bringing this book to light and for it being such a success.
“To Sean Walsh and his team for making tonight such a success; and to another esteemed historian, Dominic Sandbrook, for before giving the introduction in a few moments…
“But last but not least, I want to thank my inspirational and beautiful wife, without whose help and support this book would not have been possible.”
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