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Remembering Holy Moly – by the Man Who Started It

The celebrity gossip site Holy Moly closed yesterday, after 13 years faithful service. Jamie East, its founder, reminisces on a pre-libel law internet, nearly losing his house and thumb fighting with Alex Reid.
March 11, 2015, 2:00pm

A screengrab of the Holy Moly homepage today

Hey you, young thing. The internet wasn't always this cosy, you know. There was a time, in the not too distant past, where you could get away with nearly anything. Way before people decided to be nice to other people, way before hashtags and most certainly before any form of online regulations took hold, nothing was off-limits. It was pretty much The Wild, Wild Web.

Before Perez Hilton and his big, angry man baby face became the celebrity spokesperson nobody asked for, the UK trail-blazed its way through privacy issues, libel laws and the dubious morality of publishing pictures of famous people having nervous breakdowns.

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I played my part by creating a website called Holy Moly in 2002. You may have heard of it, but chances are you won't. If all of you had, then it probably wouldn't have closed down yesterday after 13 years faithful service.

As the site said in its statement yesterday, "For some reason a website dedicated to being needlessly unpleasant about Olly Murs is no longer financially viable. Go figure."

But I'm not sure that's the whole story. People are just… nicer. It's no longer big nor clever to describe Mel B as having a face like a "damp cake". People won't roll on the floor laughing their arses off when you suggest Kanye West is a service station just off the M4. You won't impress many friends by telling them, with utter conviction, about the bear who swears blind that a certain Hollywood actor wore a mask from one of his blockbuster films to an Ibiza foam party and had to run, trouser-less, out of the club, after the mask accidentally tore "upon entry".

We once described a picture of Jude Law's dick as "looking like Brian Blessed smoking a rollup". Stick that up yer arse, TMZ.

I almost lost my house three times due to stories like these. Two out of three times I probably deserved to. That wasn't the most fun I've ever had. There weren't any precedents set back then – lawyers either didn't know where they stood with people talking about their clients shagging the drummer from Cud, or, if they did, they couldn't find me to serve any papers. For a while.

"The biggest scoop the site ever got was finding out that Madonna and Guy Ritchie were divorcing. I hit the button and published it to an avalanche of incredible phone calls from her record company and PR, going proper LA apeshit at me" – Jamie East

I remember the first time they found me – I was working at Sky at the time and had just published an audio clip of someone slagging off Take That. I foolishly said they sounded like they had taken coke. BOOM. Shit got very real, very quickly, and I had to pay him thousands to leave me alone. I didn't have thousands. I was not a popular man at home that evening.

Having said that, it's not often you get to print things like:

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"Despite what we said, Chris never criticised Cat Deeley or called her a lesbian. Chris has huge respect for Cat.

We also reckoned his career was heading down the dumper. Nothing could be further from the truth. We've since learned that Chris is currently filming BBC1's Hotel Babylon with Max Beasley

We also now understand that Chris has never even been to a sauna in the USA.

You may have also got the impression that Chris engaged in homosexual fetishist role play activities with a Rabbi he knows to be a happily married man with children. This has turned out to be complete and utter nonsense and we should never have printed it."

Gossip came from many different places – mostly from my "moles" (see what I did there?) – a collection of journalists, PRs, pop stars, actors, presenters, runners publishers, hell, anyone who could get their hands on the good stuff. This lot still exist on the same, old-fashioned message board, except nowadays the conversation is all about moving out of London because we're old.

Not all my stories came from insiders, though. The biggest scoop the site ever got was finding out that Madonna and Guy Ritchie were divorcing. I hit the button and published it to an avalanche of incredible phone calls from her record company and PR, going proper LA apeshit at me. I mean APESHIT. Newspapers and rival sites cried bullshit and things got quite mental for a while. No one believed the story but I had no doubt in my mind. The tip-off actually came from a middle-aged mate of my dad who was in a beer garden and overheard one of their lawyers get absolutely shit-faced with their mate, who wound up blabbing all about the bitterness in negotiating the settlement.

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Sometimes you don't need an industry insider – just a pissed lawyer.

Inexplicably, I managed not only to make a living out of this, but also managed to sell the business. Twice (long story). I left the business in 2013 for many reasons – but mostly two. I'd ended up as a TV presenter and it made life fucking difficult. One minute you're kicking against the pricks, next day you are the prick. How could I tear a strip out of Big Brother housemates when I was the guy interviewing them before they went in the house? How was I any better than them? I clearly wanted to be on telly as much as they did.

Not only that, but doing shows like Big Brother's Bit On The Side brought me alarmingly close to the celebrities I'd spent 13 years destroying. This is what led Alex Reid to rip his shirt off and offer me out in a car park in Elstree two minutes before going on air. We agreed to have a thumb fight instead. He won. Other times, I found myself becoming friends with them.

Do I feel bad for saying Kerry Katona used to sprinkle ketamine on her chips? Now that it's clear she was, for a number of years, gripped by both bipolar disorder and a fucking nasty, controlling prick of a husband? Yeah, I do, and I've told her that. She forgave me and, for some inexplicable reason, gave me a Vax steam cleaner.

But all of this is irrelevant, because Holy Moly, along with the era and the days of wild web abandon, is no more. We're all so fucking NICE now.

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Twitter may have done wonderful things for celebrity culture by breaking down the fourth wall, for creating an actual chance that yer man off Sons of Anarchy might favourite your message. But it's also responsible for bad trolling (like Brass Eye's Bad AIDS episode) and allowing celebs to get away with murder.

Taking a celebrity down a peg or two used to be an art form. Then #banter became a thing, which quickly became misogynistic, homophobic or bigoted attacks. Reading back on some of the stuff I published, I'm quite shocked at the viciousness of some of the stories. But when Jeremy Clarkson became an ambassador to bantz and Heat magazine got sued for calling Katie Price's son fat, I was out faster than Peter Jones hearing Hamfatter's debut album for the first time.

@mrjamieeast

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