Giving Nick Davies a bad name

The Guardian, October 1 1991

I have never liked my name. I’ve always thought it dull, but, on the other hand, it has never done me any harm. Now, however, nobody at all likes my name. Suddenly, it is mud of the nastiest sort, so nasty that it may well do me harm. Because my name also belongs to someone else.

It’s worse than that. My name belongs to someone else who has the same nationality and the same profession, who spells it the same way, who has worked for the some of the same employers and who has even worked on some of the same stories as me. The great difference between us is that the other Nick Davies has just been very publicly accused of working for Israeli intelligence, dealing arms and, worst of all, of betraying a journalistic source who is said to have been kidnapped and incarcerated with his help.

I have no idea whether he is guilty of any of these things. He says he is not. But what has happened to me in the last 24 hours is that my name has been attached to all this and broadcast on radio, splashed in newspapers and distributed in books in at least five different languages. It’s not me, you understand. It’s just my name.

If you get in close, you can see the difference between us. He is ten years older than me. He has been divorced twice; I have never even been married. He is foreign editor of the Daily Mirror and has been for years; I work for The Guardian and World In Action. Private Eye call him Kite (because his stories are supposed to be ‘fliers’); they call me Filth for reasons I couldn’t possibly go into. He used to swan round Fleet Street in a dark cloak and he keeps polo ponies; not me. Still, it’s my name.

It’s surprising really that we haven’t collided sooner. Years ago, when I first came to Fleet Street, I worked shifts at the Sunday People. This was long before Robert Maxwell threw his vast shadow over the place, but even then it was owned by the Mirror Group and my namesake worked in another part of the building. He rang me up one day, because we had been getting each other’s calls, and told me straight that I should change my name. He said he was the real Nick Davies and I would be over-shadowed by him. I told him he was wrong and, until now, I had always thought he was.

What is more bizarre is that in the spring of 1987, I was lured back to the Mirror Group, into the dark shadow of R Maxwell, to be the chief feature writer of the London Daily News and while I was there, working once again in the same building as my namesake, I ran a series of investigative stories on the Iran-Contra scandal which attempted to expose the involvement of various unpleasant British citizens in selling arms to Iran for Oliver North. I seem to have missed the story. If I’d had any idea that my namesake was supposed to be involved, I could have tried, so to speak, to expose myself.

I realised that the two of us were finally about to collide when I was called three months ago by the famous US reporter Seymour Hersh, who told me that he was about to publish these allegations and who assured me that he would make it clear that I had nothing to do with any of this. Unfortunately, he failed to do so. He says he is sorry. He says there is nothing to worry about, but then again, it’s not his name.

Now, it gets nasty. Each day, I rely on the goodwill of strangers to give me information for stories, to trust me when I promise them that I won’t betray them as sources. A lot of people help me, often because they have liked my work. But my name is no longer so trustworthy. Journalists and friends may know that there are two of us, but further down the grapevine, it is just one muddy blurred Nick Davies with a nasty cloud over it.

And what is the grapevine in the Middle East going to say? What chance have I got of walking through the airport in Baghdad or Damascus without some grimy customs officer with a slow-witted computer accusing me of working for the mother of all enemies? Do they send hit-squads after Mossad agents? Will they realise that it’s not me they’re after? It’s just my name.