Dan Wootton

by Bess Manson / 29 January, 2011
'I want to be the best. Always have.'
Dan Wootton tucks into his 30-quid plate of eggs at impossibly posh London hotel the Langham, just off Regent St. "Have whatever you like, News of the World's paying," he says, with a Kaiwai eccent that has lost none of its twang.

Wootton, the youngest showbiz editor of the biggest-selling newspaper in the UK, is about to interview mega-pop sensation Justin Bieber - if he can squeeze his way through the throng of screaming girls at his album-signing upstairs.

"I'm giving him a News of the World award," he says nonchalantly. "He's 16 and the world's biggest star right now, what does he care about this award? Nothing. But it's good for me to be photographed with him for my CelebXS column. Getting the stars on my pages - that's all that matters to me," he says.

You quickly get the feeling 27-year-old Wootton probably wakes up every morning with that mantra in his head. He is nothing if not ambitious. Every column inch he writes about his celeb fodder is golden for him.

"Every week, I want my column to be better than my rivals'. Most weeks it is. I want to be the best. Always have," he says. Wootton has been rewarded for his efforts in bagging the best celeb scoops with the Showbiz Writer of the Year gong at the 2010 British Press Awards, just 16 months after taking over from Rav Singh.

"That was huge for me," he says. "They are the only awards that mean anything in British journalism, and showbiz is the most competitive area. There are literally hundreds of showbiz reporters here. It was a real professional confidence boost for me. I mean, the only people who have won that award have gone on to have ultra-successful careers." One of those former winners is Victoria Newton, now deputy editor of the NOTW, which sells about three million copies a week.

Wootton says the gong gave him "job security" on Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation-owned paper, which is always ruthlessly looking for the best scribes to deliver the top scoops to its 10 million readers.

Wootton's lifestyle of jet-setting and partying all over the world is redolent of those he writes about. One day he's in Paris interviewing Pixie Lott, the next he's off to Geneva to have a chinwag with Rihanna. He recently went on the road with Bieber to get an insight into the boy wonder's world. He was also one of the very few British journos on the guest list for Sir Elton John's Oscars party last year.

"I have never seen so many celebrities in one room," he gushes. "I mean, seriously, it was wall-to-wall celebrities. Every­where I looked there was someone big.

"I've been to some pretty cool parties with the likes of Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Kate Moss, but this was top drawer: Sharon Osbourne, the cast of Glee, Simon Cowell, Grace Jones ..."

At red-carpet events, you won't find him in the press pen trying desperately to get the attention of a star for a sound bite. Forget it. Our man Dan is right there on the red carpet with them ... mingling, smiling, a celebrity in his own right. "For me to be successful, I cannot be seen as someone who just tries to get 20 seconds of Angelina Jolie saying 'my movie is amazing'. That does not get me anywhere. I have to have access to the right people and parties and places.

"My boss expects that. My readers expect that. I need the proper interview where I get an insight into the star's life. I need to be on the red carpet with the celebs, infiltrating their world."

His reputation for breaking the celeb news - Prince Harry's break-up with Chelsy Davy, Boyzone singer Stephen Gately's sudden death in October 2009, Charlotte Church and Gavin Henson's parting of ways, to name a few - has also seen Wootton become a talking head for various TV shows, such as The X Factor and Fox News' Geraldo at Large show. And he recently did a live broadcast from the Manchester set of Coronation Street for the show's 50th anniversary.

Yep, Dan Wootton has officially made it. He even has his own agent these days. But it wasn't a particularly easy road to the top, despite being a relatively short one.

"I never thought I'd get the opportunity to do this," he says. "I had to overcome a lot because I am not from here and did not have the background of that pop culture that exists here. My success has really come down to determination and ambition."

Raised in Avalon in Lower Hutt and educated at Naenae College and Victoria University, Wootton always sought such a career but never imagined he would make it to such dizzying heights as the showbiz editor for the NOTW - or the Screws for the World, as it's known by many in Britain, courtesy of its love for sex scandals, dirt-digging and honey traps.

He started out at the age of 15 doing a show called The Mic for a cable channel in Wellington with the now successful singer Brooke Fraser. He then went on to write Dan's Diary - a rundown of events around town - for the now defunct Evening Post.

From there, he turned his ambition to the small screen, becoming the music reviewer for TVNZ's Good Morning and researcher for presenter Lisa Manning. He had a fling with Manning - 18 years his senior - but the affair was cut short when she ran off with Lord of the Rings actor John Rhys-Davies. This time, it was Dan who became fodder for the women's mags. Wootton called time on New Zealand and upped sticks for a move to London.

He began writing for "some awful trade magazines" but soon moved on to Broadcast, a respected industry magazine where he honed his craft and developed his contact base, breaking a few stories along the way.

A scoop about Victoria Beckham helped establish his name in the tabloid circles he longed to be inside. It was backstage at the massively popular X Factor show in 2006 that he managed to corner the NOTW showbiz editor.

"Being an upfront guy, I made it clear I wanted to come and work on the paper," he says. Wootton got a trial as the paper's TV reporter. He was determined to get a killer scoop to secure his role on the red-top. So when he came across a "very out-of-it" Pete Doherty (of the Libertines) at the NME awards in 2007, he pounced. Doherty and supermodel Kate Moss were hot property at that time and permanent fixtures in the tabloid showbiz pages.

It was not exactly a sit-down interview. Wootton followed Doherty into the loos, got chatting - Doherty wasted, Wootton as sharp as a tack. Wootton was hoping for a story, but even he had no idea how great a story he was to land. As he and the pop singer walked out of the loo - like they're now best of friends - they bumped into Moss. "I just gate-crashed a conversation they had then and there about getting engaged. They knew who I was but whether they actually knew or not, in their state ..." (Ironically, Wootton, who is obsessed with all things celebrity - make-ups and break-ups - won't speak about his own love life.)

The scoop sealed the deal and he got the job as TV reporter. He continued breaking stories and getting interviews with the crème de la crème of the A-list world. It's been a magical (red) carpet ride, but as you would expect in this dog-eat-dog world, he also has his fair share of detractors.

Moss is "not a fan", and Jordan, aka the surgically enhanced Katie Price "hates me". The NOTW is in the midst of legal action with Price but Wootton can't talk about that. The gossip website Popbitch is particularly caustic about Wootton and there are dedicated websites and chatrooms in which readers' comments on him have been, shall we say, uncharitable.

Mostly, though, it's water off a duck's back, as Wootton remains a powerful voice with a massive audience ... and because of that, many celebs would have him as friend rather than foe. "Most of the big celebrities know me now," he says. "Most trust me not to screw them over. To be successful, you can't go for the slash-and-burn approach screwing people over because people won't come to you again."

And he needs them because he's planning on sticking around. There's no job big enough or fun enough for him back in New Zealand. Besides, he wants to follow in the steps of the likes of former Mirror editor-turned-reality-show-judge-turned-talkshow-host Piers Morgan. You get the feeling the wantonly ambitious Wootton will stop at nothing till he gets there.

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