Famous For Five Times A Night: Fiona Wright And The Secrets Of Her Diary

Tabloid sensationalism, naked opportunism and the birth of the kiss ‘n’ tell boom of the Eighties and Nineties.

These days, it’s surprisingly easy for people with no talent for anything other than self-promotion – which is, I suppose, a talent of sorts – to become famous. Endless reality TV shows, talent shows and the rise of the ‘influencer’ (who may or may not have any actual influence) has arguably democratised the idea of celebrity – that or simply rendered the whole idea as ludicrous and meaningless as it arguably always should have been. Look at reports of ‘glittering movie premieres and star-studded events and see how many of those attending are people famous for being famous – some of whom will maintain this dubious fame for years, others who have to make the most of it when they can and many of whom will go on to occupy a weird middle-ground of low-rent TV commercials, nightclub appearances and a strange quasi-fame where people vaguely remember you but can’t quite work out what for.

The precursor to today’s empty celebrity seems to be the kiss ‘n’ teller – usually (but not always) female, often a ‘model’ (like ‘influencer’, ‘model’ seemed a self-applied description that required little evidence of having done any actual modelling work) or a ‘call-girl’, as the tabloids were wont to call them. They all had one thing in common – a sexual liaison of varying levels of seriousness with a celebrity, a politician or some other sort of VIP, usually one who was older and married. Sometimes, their relationship would be uncovered by parasitical hacks, catching respectable establishment figures slipping into massage parlours – not the ones where you go for an actual massage, needless to say – or sex party, and the hapless young woman, finding herself thrust into the spotlight of hypocritical tabloid outrage, would make the best of a bad situation by selling her story – if the Fleet Street rags were going to expose you anyway, why not get paid and have at least some control over what was said?

It very quickly became clear to the more savvy golddigger that there was money and fame to be had from these secret and illicit relationships becoming public, and soon enough, the models and the call girls began to cut out the middle-man and contact the tabloids directly – this proved to be an especially satisfactory way of dealing with a ‘relationship’ that had ended, but often they would force the issue by spilling the beans about an ongoing affair to The Sun, The Daily Mirror or more often than not The News of the World, which thrived on scandal and tut-tutting self-righteousness served with a heavy dose of titillation. Sometimes, the tabloids would get wind of an affair and contact the women directly, blackmailing them into telling their story or else face having their relationship splashed across the front pages in a way that would put them in a bad light. Most, understandably, complied. It’s something that went back decades – the whole Profumo-Keeler affair is a prime example – but in the 1980s and 1990s it became rampant, and some women built a reputation for multiple kiss-and-tell stories. These women seemed to have no end of stories to sell, even though you might think that any man might be wary of entering into a relationship, however brief, with someone who had already sold their story to the tabloids. There’s no fool like an old fool, I guess.

All of which brings us to Fiona Wright, who was – for a brief period – a household name in the UK thanks to her affair with Sir Ralph Halpern, chairman of the Burton group that also included the Top Shop chain and Britain’s highest-paid executive with a 1987 pay packet of £1.36 million. At the time of their affair, Halpern was 49 and Wright was 19. She was, of course, a model, usually referred to as a ‘Page 3 Girl’, which at that time generally meant any glamour model rather than someone who’d actually appeared in The Sun. Page 3 Girls were at the height of their fame at the time with models like Samantha Fox and Linda Lusardi being bonafide celebrities, but no one had heard of Wright before the story of the affair broke.

The official version of the story – the version told by Wright, that is – is that her flatmate had found her diaries, which just happened to be full of detailed and lurid discussion of the affair, Halpern’s sexual tastes and prowess. The flatmate then stole the diaries and took them to the press. Fiona had no involvement at all in this shameful exploitation of her private thoughts. Well, it’s possible I suppose. However they actually obtained the diaries, the tabloids ate it up and one revelation about the couple’s sex life led to Halpern being nicknamed ‘Five Times A Night’, which probably doesn’t need any further clarification. Halpern didn’t bother to deny the story but claimed that the affair had been casual and physical, with no romance involved. Wright, of course, claimed it was more than that but despite her protestations – “When I go out with older men we talk about war and things” – it’s hard to see what the two could have really had in common. Asked how he got involved with her, Halpern commented “She puts on this wonderful act… a sort of innocent Brigitte Bardot pout. I fell for it.” As for what attracted Wright to the multi-millionaire…

Readers might have spat out their tea hearing Wright compared to Bardot, but the sensational story gave Wright the fame that she so clearly craved. She really did become a top glamour model for a brief time, appearing in everything from The Sun to the Sunday Sport and making the cover of Penthouse. Another glamour model, Jenny Singleton, popped up with claims that she was also Halpern’s lover, but her story was too little, too late. There was only room for one kiss ‘n’ teller to become a celebrity and Wright had beaten her to the punch.

It was never going to last, though. Wright was always a second-division pin-up and the scandal attached to her meant that she was never going to have the cultural cache of her Page 3 rivals. There is no question that she made the most out of very little, in terms of her claim to fame and her qualities as a glamour model, but this was always going to be a flash in the pan. Without the Halpern affair, she was just another wannabe who didn’t really have what it took to be a model.

One of the last gasps of her moment in the spotlight came in the video release Fiona Wright: Secrets of My Diary, released in 1988 to the complete disinterest of everyone. A no-expense-gone-to production by Video Tele Sales, the tape is part interview, part catalogue of tacky lingerie that the viewer could order over the phone. The production values are awful and the unforgiving glare of 1980s Umatic doesn’t do her any favours – no amount of make-up and fake tan can hide her bad skin and both she and the man interviewing her are profusely sweating under the studio lighting. The interview is awkward and tells us nothing, and the modelling scenes, with Wright and a couple of low-rent male models posing around in the underwear, are decidedly underwhelming, even with every 1980s video effect thrown in to liven things up. Whatever appeal a sexy video with Wright might have had – and her popularity and sex appeal was, I suspect, rather less than the tabloids thought – was finally scuppered by the fact that the BBFC gave the tape a 15 certificate, the absolute kiss of death for anything that was being passed off as an adult tape. As erotic spectacles go, this is rather lacking – look very hard and you might just about catch a flash of nipple. Naturally, no one wanted this tape and it quickly vanished – I found a copy, sans sleeve, several years later in a second-hand shop where it was being sold for a pound. Which was about what it was worth as a curious cultural artefact. Here it is, for your delectation (with some sound deletions for the usual reasons).

Wright’s brief moment of stardom was over by 1989 and it was all downhill from then on. At one point in the 1990s, she became a  £500-a-night prostitute and then in 1996 married the wealthy Mark Chattwell after a ‘whirlwind’ ten-day romance. Whatever skills she had in attracting rich men clearly had not disappeared. The marriage didn’t last – within a year she had kicked him out, keeping the Versace clothing, diamond jewellery and BMW convertible as the spoils of war. her husband attempted suicide; Wright then mocked him for not succeeding. Nice. She subsequently feuded with her sister and brother-in-law – over money, of course – and ended up in court after vandalising his car. She had acting ambitions in the mid-1990s but we must assume these came to nought – there are several Fiona Wrights on IMDb but none of them is her. Then again, Secrets of My Diary is not on that site either. After this, she seems to have slipped into obscurity.

Fiona and sister, before the family spat.

Ralph Halpern divorced his wife in 1999 and married his secretary. In 2000, at the age of 61, he fathered a child. He died in 2022,  aged 83. Other than a few presumably awkward moments with his wife, the affair did him no harm – I suspect that in the macho world of 1980s big business, being known as a ‘five times a night’ stud would not exactly damage your reputation. The tabloid scandal was the opening moment in the modern age of kiss ‘n’ tell stories, one that continued for years before the News of the World phone-hacking outrage turned people against such needless and damaging intrusions into the private lives of others unless exposing political corruption, hypocrisy or criminal behaviour.

Like Wright herself, the story seems very much of its time. The kiss ‘n’ tell has never quite gone away, but the public interest – always rather over-estimated by the media – has certainly diminished and there are easier routes to fame for the untalented but ambitious these days.


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