Privacy Commission Day 4, Witness 2: Helen Wood

The PM Privacy Commission spoke to the former escort Helen Wood on Tuesday June 21, 2011. The commissioners are Sir Michael Lyons, Lord Faulks QC and Baroness Liddell.

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NB: This transcript was typed from an audio recording. The views expressed by the witness are their own.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for their accuracy.

ML: Our next witness is Helen Wood who has first hand experience of having injunctions served against her, and indeed is facing one at the moment. Helen would you like to introduce yourself and just say a little bit about your experiences?

HW Yes certainly. I was supposed to have an injunction put against me last year to prevent my name from coming out for sleeping with a footballer. Unfortunately that application was declined and then my name went out to press. And I'm now in a situation where an injunction is against me to talk about a sexual encounter with a actor. The proceedings are still going ahead and I am still waiting for the outcome to (pause), I'm going wrong again. Yeah, I'm still waiting to hear from the courts to see what's gonna happen; what the outcomes going to be. It's not an actual super injunction, it's just an injunction, it just a temporary measure so I'm not too sure what's going to happen with it. All I know is that I've been put out there yet again and the famous man has been protected.

ML The press sometimes refer to you as an escort. Is that how you earn your living?

HW No not anymore. I haven't worked as an escort for the past 2 years. This was a profession I chose to do quite a few years ago and now through personal reasons. No, I'm not working as an escort now.

ML Now just tell us about what your limited from doing. You're clearly not able to speak about your relationship with the actor. What about with the footballer that is a matter of public record?

HW Yeah it is. That's where I don't understand, I don't understand where they kind of, where they draw the line at who can be talked about and who cant, because the footballer that most of the population know about and everyone knows about this and everyone is open to talk about it. It's freedom of speech. I've been able to talk about it as much as I want and he's been able to talk about it. Obviously he has chosen not to, and other people that were involved are talking about it as well. But with this particular case now I'm restricted completely from naming him at all and naming kind of things that could link; link it to being that person. It's kind of, it's failed in that respect when it comes to the social networking side of things i.e. Twitter, Facebook and things like that.

ML So your point is that of course, your reputation, your privacy is invaded; it's open for discussion in both cases?

HW Well it is. This is what I don't agree on. And with the actor my opinion on it is if you're going to have an injunction there and the whole of the thing can't come out and nothings to be discussed about this particular person, then surely it would of made more sense to put an injunction on us both from talking and not just to go and put my name out there. It wasn't me that approached the court to talk about it. It was a number of media sources that went to the court to try and get this story out there because it had leaked into the media. So I had no intention of selling a story so therefore why on earth was it ok to splash me all over a newspaper, but not the actor? I don't understand that whatsoever, again the same for last year, I don't understand why when I went along with Wayne Rooney, we're talking about, I went along with his legal firm. I did everything they asked me to do and an application was put in there for an injunction. I was told because of Wayne's previous actions, which had nothing to do with me, it was fine to just kind of put me out there. My name was ok to go out there. I put that down to my profession now. I do put it down to, "Helen was an escort so we'll stick her out there, it doesn't really matter". That's how I felt anyway, I was victimised for what I chose to do as a living.

ML And what impact has that had on your personal life?

HW I'd be lying to say that my life hasn't changed an awful lot. It's changed for the better in some ways. I didn't deal with it very well last year, for numerous months it was just horrendous. I stopped collecting my child from school. Family members who I still haven't seen and I've chosen to see through being a coward really. I don't want to face them just yet. But I'm trying to pick things up and not let people get me down i.e. people who don't actually understand my circumstances and where I was coming from and why I did what I did for a living. What I did for a living was very very private and now everybody knows about it. Of course it is a bit of a kick in the teeth when the next person walking down the side of the street knows exactly what you've done. So, you know, but you can't cry over spilt milk, you've got to get on with it and pick yourself up again. I won't let it get me down and I will make the most out of a bad situation.

HL: One of the things you said, you know, you were hung out there and the famous man is protected. It's almost as if you are saying there is one law for him because he is rich and famous and you are the victim. You are the one who is hung out to dry because you don't have the resources to get yourself protected in the way that he can. Is that a fair analysis of how you feel? Do you feel as though you've been hung out to dry?

HW This is it that is exactly how it is. That's it in black and white. That's exactly what has happened. I put it down to, with my first encounter I thought because I am an escort they've obviously thought, you know, stick her out there, we're not really bothered. I was looked down upon if you know what I mean. But there's been plenty of other super injunctions/injunctions brought out on other people. Imogen Thomas, she's one of them. She was just a kind of an ordinary, ordinary kind of girl. There are other people out there who have had super injunctions and they were just living ordinary lives. So I can't put it down to the fact that I was an escort. I think it does, it does stop if you've got enough money and you can behave exactly how you like because you've got the funds to protect it from ever being made public. Whereas I didn't have a spare fifty grand going so because I was an escort they just put me out there because I couldn't get this injunction. There was absolutely nothing on God's green earth I could of done to stop that going out there and where the fairness in that is I've no idea. When I was doing a job, I wasn't being unfaithful, yet a man can go and be unfaithful to his wife and all the rest of it and just shell out fifty grand and he's fine, he's saved his neck hasn't he?

HL: You said you were nervous or embarrassed about talking to your family. Did they know that you were an escort?

HW No, no.

HL How did they react?

HW well I hadn't had any relationship whatsoever with my father. Oh God...

HW No I've not had an relationship whatsoever with my dad and he contacted me which you know still to this day when I look at my dad in particular still didn't have a clue what I'd done for a living. So when I received a text message, the first one that I had received in years saying, "Helen we are really worried about you. Can you just come home; we want to talk to you". I was just so embarrassed. How can I look my dad in the eye when he knows I've prostituted myself and he's never ever asked me anything about it whatsoever, he's just kind of apologised for kind of not being around then. But I don't blame him whatsoever, he wasn't to know, it was something I kept very personal to myself. Not even my nearest and dearest, which are my friends, knew what I was doing. It was kind of a secret life that I led. So yeah, it's awful what's happened to my family, it's not nice at all. I think that's another thing, when people ask me do I feel sorry for the actor's family, well yeah, of course I do. But I haven't done anything wrong, but my family and friends have had to be put through all this shit when subsequently it wasn't even me in the wrong in the first place.

HL So the personal consequences have been pretty dramatic and upsetting?

HW Yeah, well I don't really face it head on as much as I should do really. I kind of just switch off and go cold about it all. But it's not a nice situation whatsoever, not when I kind of look at things how it is and look at my parents and my brothers and my very close friends. It's very hard for them to listen to the kind of stick that I do get.

Man So you think that your privacy was invaded?

HW It was invaded. Definitely.

Man So you think there should be some law that prevents newspapers invading peoples' privacy?

HW I think so, yeah, definitely. There should be a line drawn at some point. I think newspapers are there, and always will be there to kind of put gossip out there and fill people in on celebrity life, but at the end of the day I do strongly agree with no matter what person you are, no matter what background you come from, whether you are rich or poor, everybody is entitled to some form of privacy. My privacy was put out there with regards to me doing escorting which I found very distressing because like I said, it was a very personal thing to me. An actor, a footballer and that kind of thing, no matter what profession you come from I there should be some kind of boundary that is put in place that can't put out there what kind of things they get up to. I think if they are misbehaving and you know they are not actually being...they are being very careless with it, I do think you know, its your own problem and I do think celebrities probably should look into it a bit more before they go and commit adultery and things like that because people are are there to get them. That wasn't me by the way; I never set out to do any of this. But going back to what I said, whether you are a celebrity or just the average person walking the street, everybody deserves some kind of privacy. The phone hacking, the other awful things that have gone on invading peoples' space, celebrities being stalked and things like that, that is ridiculous because it's becoming a point where why do the public want to read about things like that? I know I wouldn't want to read a newspaper where a particular person had been stalked or their phone had been hacked. I wouldn't find that interesting. I'd find it pretty disgusting to be honest, because I wouldn't like it done to me.

Man Do you think that if you're a public figure or a celebrity and you are unfaithful to your wife, that in itself means that you, you've given up your right to privacy?

HW Um (pause) yes because of what happened to me last year. If you'd of asked me this question previous to what happened last September I would of said nobody should be put out there. It's not fair, keep your business behind closed doors, it shouldn't go into a newspaper. I would never of in a million years looked at a kiss and tell and thought I'd love to do that. I found it really disgusting when I saw girls writing about particular actors, footballers like that as it has been going on for a while. But because I was sold to the public last year and I went to press for days and days, weeks, months on end, I've got a total different opinion on it now. I wasn't married and still it was held against me. So I think if you are married you kind of you know, just watch what you are doing basically. Don't go out there and make yourself an easy target, especially if you are a celebrity.

ML Before all this happened to you and you were treated the way that you describe, you didn't then think that is was appropriate for example escorts to sell their story?

HW No never, because well in my particular case my job was confidential and I saw clients as having the need of confidentiality, I was a great believer in that and I still am. But because of what did happen you know I did slightly change my opinion a bit as I felt hard done by and I still feel hard done by. I will never ever forgive the person that sold my name to the papers. It just turned my world upside down. But you know if I could go back, if you asked me that, would I go back to thinking the way I did last August prior to the Wayne Rooney incident, then I would do. I would prefer it to be that everything is kept behind closed doors and not put out there. I think newspapers should be able to write about certain things and if it is put out there totally obvious, then fair enough. But if somebody's just having a bit of fun or doing whatever, then I don't think it's up to the public to try and decide what happens to them.

ML Before you got involved in this, would you of known what to do to try and prevent somebody publishing a story about you?

HW No not got a clue. I wouldn't of had a clue it was a very small fish in a big pond, and I still am with all of this. I don't pretend to understand half the legality side of things but

ML Have you ever heard of the Press Complaints Commission?

HW No, I wish I had of done though, believe you me. The amount of trash that got printed about me last year, I would of loved to of known about them. But it's over and done with now isn't it?

ML And you yourself refer to the services you provided as confidential

HW Yes

ML services and you obviously took that seriously. How did they, how did it come into the public domain, your relationship with a footballer and the actor?

HW Well with the footballer it was because the appointment with him was taken with another girl. This was in July 2009. We both made a decision that it would never go out there; it didn't even have to be discussed. It was never gonna come out and I do find it very strange that it has come out and unbelievable because the media came to me three times and I fobbed them off. They believed me, I was like, I seriously don't have a clue what you are talking about. But unfortunately the third time they did come to me the other girl that was involved had already given evidence that I was the other girl and made money on that as well. With the actor as well this happened... I used to work alongside two other girls escorting. We used to go to Dublin together as kind of protection; we'd all kind of be in the same house. They know about this particular person coming visiting me. I didn't actually have any idea how high profile he was, I still don't. I've not really looked into it to be honest. And it kind of, it went out there the media approached me saying is it true and I laughed it off. I was kind of like no it's not true. But then they just pushed and pushed and pushed for it you know and I did admit it in the end. I did say well it is true because from previous experience me denying it still got me put out in the newspaper.

Man So in this case you changed your view of how you should behave?

HW Well for seven days I was impressed reading, yeah a lot of it was facts, but a lot of it was utter rubbish as well. So this time round when I heard I got a phone call at 2 o'clock in the afternoon off a friend of mine saying that there was court proceedings going ahead so that's when I got in touch with an agent and I just said "look, I don't know what's going to happen but I know my name's gonna be all over the newspapers by the morning". It was already, it was in The Daily Mail and all over the internet by an hour after the court proceedings had gone ahead so that's why I did go to an agent this time and said right I will admit it, I cashed in. I said I will cash in on it, there is no way I am sitting her for seven days like I did last year reading rubbish.

Man So you made no money out of the first case, but you have out of the second?

HW I did make money out of the first case. Not as much as I should of done. Had I of gone to the newspaper when I was asked to go to the newspaper then two occasions before that, I did make money on that yeah. But as I said, I could of made an awful lot more. I know it is not about that but everyone is kind of like, you are all about money that is all you are bothered about. If I'd wanted to make a lot of money, then I could of, sold a story before a world cup and then made triple, if not even more than that. It wasn't about the money, but on this occasion I'm not going to sit here and pretend that I wasn't interested in the money. I thought I am definably cashing in before I have to sit her for six/seven days of watching me in the newspaper everyday. So that's what I did,

Lady So you got involved with Max Clifford? Does that provide a degree of protection for you in that you'll get advice from Max and what type of services do you get from him?

HW Max, I haven't had many dealings with him like face to face. But I work with a colleague of his; they are fantastic to work with to be honest. They've been the most support that anyone's actually been and to say that they are not a legal firm, I found that very helpful. They've kind of pointed me down the right direction. Personally I think I've kind of come out of this better than I thought I would have done and that's with help from Max Clifford and his firm. They've advised me what to do, what not to do, who to speak to. I wouldn't be sat here speaking to you guys if it wasn't for Max and his team. So yeah, they have been fantastic. They've offered help, they've told me what not to do, they've told me what to do, they've never...put it one way, they are at the end of a phone which is more than I can say for a lot of people.

HL Had you had any dealings with the press at all before all of this happened?

HW No, never. The press absolutely petrified me. Well they still do because they are big and their forceful and adamant, it's their job and that's how they make money getting information out of people and you know, I can't knock them for that, that's their job. Yeah but, it's very daunting, still is daunting but last year it was just horrendous that I became ill being surrounded by press and things like that. It was just, like I said before, I was a very small fish in a big pond, it was very scary. I had no idea what I was saying. I kept saying things wrong. I probably said too much and then other times I didn't say enough. So it's been a massive learning curfew and you do have to tread very carefully with them.

Lady Did they find where you lived?

HW Yep, found out where I lived, found out where my little boy's dad lived, who lives actually down south. They came to where my little boy goes to school, which going back to the privacy question that you asked me, I think that is disgusting. There is, there is a legality side of things when it comes to schools and things like that and they did kind of go round the school and things which is absolutely barbaric. That is not allowed whatsoever. They found, just I can't believe, I cannot believe how they lie, they just spread like wildfire. They go everywhere. Every single nook and cranny they find and you'll guarantee they'll be there. If they are after something they won't stop until they get it.
Timecode 28.01

HL: And you had no means of stopping that?

HW Well I did. I did last year definitely. I hid. I went hiding. I thought going hiding in one of my friends houses would of helped me, but they even found me there. Yeah, they will find you though and subsequently if you're the one whose done something and you are guilty of doing something its going to be very hard to prove that you've not.

HL: So what happens next? What does the future hold?

HW What does the future hold? Um hopefully a few more holidays as I'm sick of this rain (laughs). I'd like to do some form of a column. I'd absolutely love some form of a column writing. I enjoy writing a lot and I have currently just set up a fashion line in hiring dresses for girls that can't as much afford the designer dresses. I've set up a website to put them out there to girls that fancy the designer dresses but can't actually afford to buy them. So I'm hoping that all goes ahead and also the book. I've got a meeting with a few literary agents and I'm hoping some kind of biography can be put together. I'd really like that. Thank you.

ML: Helen, just as we come to the close of this is there anything you'd like to say to the listeners directly on the PM programme about your view of the rights of privacy and the rights of the press?

HW I think if I was to hit it on the head really the press are there to do a job really. They are there; we have journalists to inform the public of everything that's going on. But at the same time I think you have to draw a line and there is a big line where somebody can be made a fool of or can be put out there for entertainment. I think strongly something should be put out there with regards to the privacy phone hacking and things like that. But if celebrities, footballers, all the rest of it, are gonna go out there and kind of misbehave and get up to no good, then it will, its still gonna make stories and we do have a population that is very interested in peoples' personal affairs. So until that stops I think the stories are going to still continue. It depends on what happens with the super injunctions. I think there's going to be a series of ?? 31:00:00 and they're not going to be given out just on a whim anymore.

Man Thank you very much. Thanks for coming along today.

HW Thank you for having me.

Man You've been so frank and good luck for the next chapter.

HW Ah thank you, thanks for having me.

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