Rebekah Brooks: Britain's tenacious tabloid queen

LONDON, July 9, 2011 (AFP) - Politicians have called for her head but Rebekah Brooks, the head of Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper empire, has refused to surrender to the phone hacking scandal that killed off the News of the World.

The 43-year-old redhead started out as a secretary and rose to become editor first of the News of the World, then its daily stablemate, The Sun, before taking over as chief executive of the group that owns them, News International.

During that time she proved herself to be charming but ruthless in pursuit of a story, a relentless networker but also extremely loyal to Murdoch, who is said to view her like a seventh child.

Observers say it is because of her close relationship with the media tycoon that Brooks is still in her job, when 200 journalists and staff at the News of World will not be following the 168-year-old tabloid's closure next week.

She was reportedly in tears when she announced that, after a week of torrid allegations that the paper had hacked the phones of murder victims and dead soldiers' families, Sunday's edition would be its last.

Brooks edited the News of the World from 2000 to 2003, when some of the hacking is alleged to have taken place, but she insists she knew nothing of the practice -- and Murdoch has given her his full support.

This is despite calls by opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband for her to resign, and a lack of support from her friend Prime Minister David Cameron, who said on Friday that if offered it, he would have accepted her resignation.

Many commentators viewed Murdoch's decision to close the News of the World as a sacrifice to save Brooks, ditching one red-top (slang for a British tabloid) for another (a reference to his chief executive's trademark hair).

Brian Cathcart, professor of journalism at Kingston University, suggested Brooks was being kept on as a firewall to protect Murdoch's son and heir, James.

"If she goes, the next domino along is James and that's a price Rupert's not prepared to pay," Cathcart told The Guardian newspaper.

Speaking to staff on Friday, Brooks wryly noted that rivals had been reporting her imminent departure since she took over at News of the World.

Despite being one of the most powerful people in Britain, Brooks has never been one to publicise her own life.

She reportedly wanted to be a journalist from the age of 14, growing up in Cheshire, northwest England before studying at the Sorbonne in Paris.

After a stint in the regional press she joined the News of the World at the age of 20, rising to editor in 2000.

After three years at the helm of the weekly title, she moved to become the first female editor of its sister paper The Sun, Britain's top-selling newspaper, where she stayed for six years.

Ironically, her high profile job, and her first marriage to a television actor, meant she was even a target of phone hacking by a News of the World investigator at the time.

At that time she was still Rebekah Wade -- she changed her name in 2009 when she married her second husband, former horse trainer Charlie Brooks, in front of guests including Cameron, Murdoch and ex-Labour prime minister Gordon Brown.

Colleagues speak of her ability to get what she wants through charm, although she is also quite prepared to take a direct approach.

According to Fleet Street legend, she once dressed up as a cleaner to get into the offices of the rival Sunday Times newspaper, hiding for two hours in the toilets before sneaking out and taking off with one of their exclusives.

More controversially, she famously launched a campaign to "name and shame" paedophiles which led to riots and the vilification of some paediatricians.

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