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Nigel Massey's 50 years of PR including Boris Becker & THAT cupboard, & Johnny Depp's champagne bath

Nigel Massey is a PR institution. He has been in advertising and public relations for over 50 years. As well as working for the likes of British Airways, where his brief included the inauguration of Concorde, he helped publicise The America’s Cup yacht race and set up his own company that launched and promoted dozens of luxury hotels all over the world. He talked to me last week about his career, thoughts on the PR industry and infamous newspaper stories involving Boris Becker, Johnny Depp and Kate Moss.

For someone who doesn’t know, how would you describe the difference between marketing and PR?

Marketing covers sales and promotion whereas PR is all about generating media exposure.

In a nutshell, what would you say is the essence of successful PR?

I’d say it’s a mix of several things. It’s partly imagination and innovation, but also a passion for your clients, establishing good relationships with them and being creative in your approach.

Who was your favourite client to work on and why?

Without a doubt, it was working for Christina Ong. She asked me to launch the Halkin Hotel and then the Metropolitan. We got on so well that she asked me to help her with her other hotels in Thailand, Bhutan, the Maldives, Bali and Turks and Caicos.

I remember in Bhutan, I took some journalists out and one day we climbed up to a famous monastery there called The Tiger’s Nest. When we got there after a three-and-a-half-hour uphill slog, a monk appeared and said “I want to welcome you and to bless your wind”, which raised a few smiles. The monk addressed us again and said: “I’m sorry I mean the wind around you, not the wind from your anus.”

Do you think it’s possible to PR anything given the right budget?

No, I don’t think it is. It all depends on what makes the product. PR isn’t magic and you can’t give journalists something that doesn’t have any merit at all or that won’t make a good story. What makes a product stand out is whether it makes good PR irrespective of what money you have.

Do you agree with the statement “that there’s no such thing as bad publicity?”

No, I don’t agree with that either. People remember bad publicity and that does have an impact.

Which client would you like to have worked on, that you never did?

One was the Lanesborough Hotel in London, in part because I was a patient there with appendicitis back in the days it was a hospital. When it was transformed into a luxurious hotel I went for a look round and asked if I could see my old second-floor “ward”, which was now an £8000-a-night suite!

The other was the Negresco Hotel in Nice. I stayed there once and I knew someone there who’d been a client of mine when I did the PR for Blake’s Hotel. He offered me a huge suite overlooking the Promenade des Anglais, the only condition being that I had to put out the flags at the front…it turned out there were sixteen of them.

How has the PR industry changed over the years?

Well, when I started off there were just a few agencies run by some very well respected women such as Ann Sadler, Ann Scott and Brownyn Gold Blyth - I was one of the first men.

These days the industry has changed hugely with the rise of online communication so now there are many more agencies, and it's much more competitive out there.

I don't think I could have done it without the support of Diane Coyne who's been with me at Massey since the beginning, and now my daughter Diana is doing a fantastic job there too.

You were PR for the Metropolitan Hotel during the infamous “Bonking Boris Becker” episode – can you talk us through all that from your point of view as the PR?

<German tennis player Boris Becker was alleged to have had sex with a Russian waitress in the broom cupboard of the restaurant Nobu, adjacent to the Metropolitan Hotel near Hyde Park Corner in London, resulting nine months later in the birth of his daughter, Anna.>

Well, it’s true that Boris Becker did have sex with someone in the corridor on the way to the loo that resulted in the birth of his daughter. The hotel GM was a bit horrified by being linked with it all because there was a paternity case coming up for Becker in the German courts and he didn’t want that publicity.

I just wondered to the GM if Becker might have done it somewhere else and the only place was a cupboard with cleaning materials, so we said if anybody asked he did it in there, and the cleaning cupboard became the broom cupboard and the story took on a life of its own.

Is it true you made up the “Johnny Depp and Kate Moss together in a bath of champagne” story when you were PR for the Portobello Hotel?

Depp was staying there with Moss and he really did fill the bath with £600 worth of champagne but there was no suggestion they were going to have hanky panky in it.

The real story that never came out was that the cleaning lady came in to do turn down service that evening. She thought someone had wee’ed in the bath so she pulled the plug out and all the champagne went down the drain!

(c) 2020 Will Hide

Photo credits: Golf = Nigel Massey; Bhutan Tigers Nest = Kinshuk Bose; London = Sabrina Mazzeo

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