If my boss finds out I'm planning to defect, he will be furious, and if I don't get the job, my life here will be a misery. Can I apply for the job and plead for them to keep my application quiet? I'm worried I will seem paranoid or deceitful.
A It's not often that I can give advice with absolute certainty, but I can here. There is not the remotest chance of your keeping such an application quiet, so you shouldn't even think about trying to.
From what you tell me, your current boss is a bit of a tyrant. He seems to be one of those obsessives who believe that if you're not totally with them, you're against them. My guess is that he would be totally unforgiving when he discovered that you'd gone behind his back; and the fact that you'd applied to one of his closest friends and rivals would drive him to new extremes of unreason.
Having established what not to do, I'm afraid I can't see a single risk-free course of action for you. Unless you decide to stay put, or apply for another job altogether, all you can do is tell him the truth. Your dream job has come up - and it's better than your present job in certain specific ways. Is there any chance of your taking on similar responsibilities (with equivalent reward) with him, in his company? Because that would be your ideal. How your boss reacts to this suggestion will tell you a lot; and it may well be a lot of what you'd rather not hear. But you're confiding in him and flattering him, and he can't reasonably accuse you of disloyalty or deceit.
Jeremy Bullmore has been creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London and a non-executive director of both the Guardian Media Group and WPP. Address your problems to Jeremy Bullmore at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.