Katie Price to buy Daily Express?

Ok, perhaps not. But that's not the most surreal name to have been thrown into the arena: the latest rumour is that Mohammed Al Fayed is about to step into the ring...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 08 Apr 2011

Better men may have been felled by the night-time protestations of a newborn, but has sleep deprivation brought on by Angel, the latest addition to Richard Desmond’s family, caused him to go completely off his rocker? There’s been something of a soap opera-style will he/won’t he storyline raging for a while over whether or not Desmond will begin selling off parts of his media ‘empire’. And while there have been various rumours about who’s in the running to buy them (Daily Mail & General Trust and Trinity Mirror have both been suggested), none has been quite as surreal as the latest reports suggest: none other than former Harrods owner Mohammed Al Fayed. Who next – Katie Price?

Details are sketchy, at best, but what we do know is that Desmond’s company, Northern & Shell, has appointed Goldman Sachs and Barclays Capital to conduct a review of its assets. Naturally, Northern & Shell has been keen to play down the idea of Desmond selling off any of its titles, saying that the company is merely conducting a ‘stock take’. But there have been reports that since his £103.5m takeover of Channel 5 last year, Desmond’s priorities have become more focused on the TV side of the business, and there are plans to sell off the company’s four newspaper titles – the Daily Express, the Sunday Express, the Daily Star and the Daily Star Sunday.

So will Al Fayed bite? Difficult to say, at this juncture (he’s too busy dealing with the fallout from his Michael Jackson statue at Fulham FC) – but bear in mind that his name has previously been linked with several newspaper acquisitions, all of which failed to bear any fruit. And let’s not forget the last time he dabbled in print: his acquisition of the now-defunct Punch magazine, which he bought the rights to in 1996 and eventually closed in 2002, making a £16m loss in the process.

Not a mistake we would imagine Al Fayed is keen to repeat – and the numbers at Desmond’s newspapers don’t exactly look encouraging. Both the Express and the Star, for example, have seen their circulations drop – and that’s despite a heavily publicised price cut (although estimations by BarCap today show Desmond’s papers are set to double their profits in the next two years. So we’ll reserve our judgement on that one). And it’s not as if Desmond’s known for being entirely realistic: remember his (slightly wild-eyed) assertion that he has his eye on the Sun? Bet Rupert Murdoch’s shaking in his boots over that one…

So perhaps this is all just a case of rumours gone awry. After all, it was only two days ago that Al Fayed’s name was reported to be ‘at the top of’ C5’s Big Brother wish list, after Desmond signed a deal with Endemol, the show’s production company, to show host it on Channel 5. The Daily Star will apparently run a competition for readers to win a place in the house. Looks like it’s going to be another long, dull summer…

- Want to know more about Richard Desmond? Check out our interview with him from the December issue of MT

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