KING of Page One John Kay, the reporter behind many of The Sun’s greatest exclusives, has died age 77.
In 41 years on the paper, 21 as Chief Reporter, he broke some of the biggest stories in Fleet Street history.
The amazing scoops he revealed to Sun readers made headlines all over the globe.
He secured the first-ever picture of Moors Murderer Myra Hindley outside prison thanks to tip-offs from his amazing contacts, who came from all walks of life.
In another incredible exclusive, John told how black twins had been born to a white couple after an IVF mix-up.
His story that MI5 chief Dame Stella Rimington was writing a book sent shock waves through the shadowy world of espionage.
News that the Tower of London was to have the first-ever female Beefeater in history came from John, as did a story that because of maintenance problems with our submarines, the only operational one in British waters was a German U-boat.
His public interest journalism also exposed other military equipment failings, Army bullying and unnecessary deaths in action.
Chelski! screamed the front page headline on his exclusive that a Russian no one had heard of, Roman Abramovich, was buying Chelsea.
One of the billionaire’s aides later told John: “Shame you didn’t patent Chelski — Mr Abramovich would have given you £1million for it.”
John Kay also correctly reported that Prince Andrew’s daughter would be named Beatrice Elizabeth Mary.
That tip-off came from a contact at a bookies near Balmoral, where there had been a spate of bets on the name Beatrice. Andrew and Fergie were staying at the Scottish castle at the time.
In 1987 he told how Prince Edward had quit the Royal Marines during training.
John also uncovered that Princess Anne was secretly in love with an equerry to the Queen, Tim Lawrence.
But his favourite world exclusive came in 1992, when John told Sun readers what was going to be in the Queen’s Christmas speech.
John recently recalled: “I had a contact who worked in BBC local radio. The stations always got an advance audio copy of the speech.
“My contact had never thought to mention them to me before because the content was always so dull.
“But this was after the Queen’s Annus Horribilis, the year of the big fire at Windsor and Charles and Di splitting up. That made it much more newsworthy.
“We printed every dot and comma. That night, just after the presses rolled, I had a call from the deputy editor, saying, ‘“You are sure, aren’t you, that this isn’t a hoax?’
“I said, ‘The story is spot on. If it’s wrong, I’ll resign’.
WINE & DINE
“The next morning I watched breakfast TV and saw Jennie Bond, the BBC royal correspondent, outside Buckingham Palace.
“She said, ‘My sources inside the Palace tell me the story in The Sun is one hundred per cent correct. And may I congratulate The Sun on a brilliant scoop’.”
In the day before mobiles, John had two phones on his desk, one exclusively for contacts to phone him with stories. He used the other to make calls.
He also had a table at the RAC club in London’s Pall Mall where he would wine and dine his contacts.
John came back from one lunch with the news that, following the death of Princess Diana, Prince William had met Camilla for the first time.
He said: “I always tried to look after my contacts. Many of them became friends.”
The greatest journalist of his generation did not actually want to be a newspaper man like his father, who was managing editor of the London Evening News.
Instead, John Michael Kay intended to be a veterinary surgeon. But at school in York he realised science was not his strongest subject.
He wrote to his parents: “I am not clever enough to be a vet. I’m going to be a journalist like Dad.”
After university in Durham he became a reporter on the Newcastle Journal before joining The Sun in 1973, covering industry. He later switched to news and in 1990 became Chief Reporter.
John wore immaculate tailored suits after being sent home to change on his first day at The Sun for wearing a sports jacket.
He always carried a neatly ironed handkerchief, which he used to dry the apple he washed with bottled water and ate every morning before phoning his father Ernest in Cambridge.
Then he would start calling his contacts for exclusive stories.
‘ONE OF FLEET STREET’S FINEST OPERATORS’
A keen tennis player, John trounced David Cameron as well as playing against Tim Henman and Andy Murray, predicting that Murray would win Wimbledon because he ruthlessly smashed aces against an amateur.
John was the first journalist to win Reporter of the Year twice at the Press Awards.
Judges praised him as “one of Fleet Street’s finest operators” who “breaks agenda- setting stories again and again”.
In one five-year period he broke 200 exclusives, many of them stories the establishment wanted hidden.
He exposed how Gulf hero Lieutenant Colonel Tim Collins was being investigated for “war crimes”.
In 1982 he sparked a storm with the revelation that the Queen’s bodyguard was being blackmailed over a gay affair.
Three years later he highlighted the Aids crisis with news that three British Airways cabin crew had died from the disease.
And in 2000 he told how an MI5 spy had lost his laptop containing top secret information while waiting at a railway station.
Afterwards John said: “I then got a call from another contact who said, ‘Are you sure you have got the right case?
“Because we were just about to tell you about an MI6 operative who had his laptop stolen from a Tapas bar’.”
He said of working for Britain’s best newspaper: “Although other offers came knocking, I stayed at The Sun because of its attitude.
“If we got a good story we ran with it — to hell with the consequences.”
In 2015 he was cleared at the Old Bailey of charges of paying a Ministry of Defence source for stories that were in the public interest.
He retired in 2015 to look after his wife Mercedes who died of cancer two years later, age 73.
MATE OF EVERYBODY
John went into a care home in Hertford in 2019 following a knee operation and died there on Friday evening.
Last night colleagues paid tribute to the man they knew simply as Johnners.
Sun Editor-in-Chief Victoria Newton said: “The word scoop was invented for John Kay — Fleet Street’s finest-ever reporter.
“He inspired generation after generation of young reporters with his endless enthusiasm, wisdom and incredible work ethic. Rest in peace, Johnners.”
Royal Photographer Arthur Edwards said: “John Kay treated everyone at the paper the same, whether you were a raw recruit or the Editor.
“He was kind, generous and would move heaven and earth to help.
“After Myra Hindley died I went with John to Saddleworth Moor to the spot where his contact had told him her ashes had been scattered. We found them.
“The next day reporters from other papers were crawling all over the place — but it had rained in the night and the evidence was gone.”
David Wooding, Political Editor of The Sun on Sunday, said: “He was a mate of everybody, a good bloke and even his rivals who he scooped time and time again loved him.”
Sun Gardening Editor Peter Seabrook added: “They come no finer than John Kay.
“Always immaculately dressed, a really polite and distinguished British gentleman, without question right on top of the job in hand. I treasure our friendship.”
Former Sun Editor Stuart Higgins said: “John Kay’s enthusiasm and familiar description of a cracking story as a ‘belter’ inspired the entire Sun newsroom on a daily basis.
“He leaves an empty Page One but his archive of exclusive and agenda-setting ‘belters’ are testimony to his consistent brilliance.”
I GOT A TRIPLE TRIPLE BELTER
John recalled his time at The Sun as part of our 50th birthday celebrations in 2019.
«For me, a good story was always a Belter. A fantastic scoop was a Triple Belter.
“My favourite was when we revealed what was going to be in the Queen’s Speech in 1992. Now that was a Triple Triple Belter!
“I started working on the Newcastle Journal in 1965 and I was poached by The Sun four years after it launched.
“I loved it from the start. Bouverie Street (the Sun’s first premises) was a dump but there was great camaraderie.
“We were the young kids on the block. We had no money so we had to try harder. Everyone was desperate to get great stories.
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“At first we were regarded with contempt by the rest of Fleet Street. But we showed how the job should be done, and as the circulation kept going up so did the respect for us.
“When we reached the top we were not treated with contempt any more.
“My time at The Sun was a Belter. I was Chief Reporter from 1990 to 2011. I also won two Reporter of the Year Awards. No one has ever done that. Now that’s a Triple Belter!»
THE SCOURGE OF AUTHORITY
By Trevor Kavanagh
TO the whole of an admiring Fleet Street, John Kay was the living embodiment of the journalistic scoop.
He broke stories those in authority wanted to keep secret.
He was the man every other journalist on The Sun wanted to emulate and every other newspaper in Fleet Street tried to poach.
His exclusives sent shockwaves through the corridors of power, through Scotland Yard, the Palace of Westminster and even Buckingham Palace.
Among a catalogue of ground-breaking “belters” was his expose of defenceless British squaddies sent to their death against roadside bombs in canvas-covered Land Rovers during the Iraq war.
The Ministry of Defence went to enormous lengths to conceal the truth. John Kay persevered, using his array of contacts within the military high command.
Eventually, the Director of Public Prosecutions – Sir Keir Starmer, no less – launched trumped-up conspiracy charges against John and other Sun journalists.
Every single count was thrown out of court. All were declared innocent.
John Kay stood trial at the Old Bailey, giving evidence which drew near-audible admiration from the judge.
The key question to Sir Keir’s Crown Prosecution Service, posed by the Lord Chief Justice at the Court of Appeal, was this: “Did you at any point consider the freedom of the Press?”
The answer was a resounding silence.
“Freedom of the Press” should be John Kay’s epitaph.