As if we didn't know already, fleecing the gullible can be a lucrative racket. The following appears in the latest Private Eye mag (Jan 14).
(Hmm, do I see see ex-premie paw-marks all over this..?)
JONATHAN CAINER, the goblin-faced astrologer who has defected from the Mail to the Express, is not only the best-paid hack in Fleet Street. He is also a devotee of Maharaji, the tubby guru who founded the Divine Light Mission cult in the 1970s and has since grown fat (literally and otherwise) an 'donations' from his followers - so much so that he is now even richer than Cainer himself, residing in a vast Malibu mansion complete with a fleet of limos and a private jet.
Late last year, investigative hacks at the Express were preparing a major expose of Maharaji's empire. Just before publication, Cainer suddenly contacted the paper and offered to transfer his horoscope from the Mail. Pure coincidence, no doubt. Nevertheless, the Maharaji investigation was hastily spiked as
Rosie Boycott welcomed Cainer aboard.
Express executives took the precaution of asking Cainer if he still had any connection with Maharaji, but he assured them that he had long since severed all links.
This is not quite the whole truth, however. Until a few months ago Cainer ran a website www.enjoyinglife.org - devoted to glorifying the Maharaji and his work. At the end of last August, after his involvement had been publicised in the Eye and the Guardian, he removed his name and his various articles from the site, explaining to friends that he had 'unwittingly attracted media attention' and thus given the website 'a higher public profile than it needs or wants to have'. But, as he emphasised, his withdrawal didn't mean he felt any less devoted to the 'great inspirational teacher'. In fact, Cainer remains a regular donor to Maharaji's organisation, and is rewarded with front-row seats at the guru's public meetings.
Cainer is now claiming he left the Mail because he disliked its views on homosexuality,
single mothers and suchlike. But rather less high-minded considerations may have played a part. His basic salary at the Daily Mail was about f75,000, and the premium-rate phonelines in his column brought in more than �200,0000 a year, which he and the newspaper split 50-50, thus giving him another �100,000. He was also allowed to print a free daily advert for his new astrology shop in York, and to promote his 'private horoscope' business through the column.
Even so, it wasn't enough. Six months ago Cainer was outraged to learn that a few other top Mail contributors were paid the same rate as him for double-page spreads. 'How dare they!' he spluttered to a colleague. 'I make this paper the bestseller it is!' He then demanded 75 percent of the proceeds from the phone lines, ie more than �150,000 pa, but chief boxwallah Laurie Scar refused.
The Express has been far more accommodating: though his basic salary remains at about �75,000, he will indeed now get his 75 percent rake-off from the dial-a-horoscope
racket. More importantly for such a raving egomaniac, large photos of his goblin face arc now splashed all over the Express's news pages.
Incredibly Cainer also wanted to become a director of Express Newspapers. Rosie had to explain gently that milord Hollick was unlikely to comply, since having an astrologer on the board would make the company a laughing stock in the City. 'Give me Lord Hollick's birth details and I'll cast a horoscope for him,' Cainer suggested. 'I'm sure he'd see sense then.'
As a consolation prize, Boycott and her colleagues agreed to let Cainer play an active part in newsroom discussions, after he pointed out that his gift of foresight would be extremely useful in planning editorial coverage. Do you mean, one executive asked him, that you could have predicted that a Korean Airlines cargo plane would crash at Stansted airport'? 'Of course,' Cainer replied. 'It was the night of the full moon, after all.' Thus the bearded soothsayer is now known to the newsdesk as 'executive in charge
of forward planning'.
One development he hadn't foreseen was that the Mail would go to court to force him to work out his notice until the end of January. In one recent column, the entry for Scorpio - the sign of Mail editor Paul Dacre -read: 'How magnanimous are you?... If you manage to let go of something you are tempted to hang on to, you will experience an almost immediate sense of relief.' Cainer's entry for his own sun-sign, Sagittarius, was equally revealing: 'The countdown has started. It's only a matter of time before you get where you want to be.' Even the cloth-heads at the Mail noticed what he was up to: the following day one David Wells wrote the horoscopes, with a small line at the bottom announcing that 'Jonathan Cainer is unwell'