As John Leslie faced the media scrum outside Southwark Crown Court yesterday, the strain of the past 10 months – during which his television career has crumpled amid multiple accusations of sex attacks – was evident: his features were grey and drawn, his speech strained and he was close to tears.
Meanwhile, the woman who inadvertently set in train the events that led to yesterday’s courtroom drama was 30 miles away at her home in Cookham Dean, Berkshire, also under siege from the media and also under some strain. Asked whether she had any comment on the fact that the charges against Mr Leslie had been dropped, Ulrika Jonsson retorted over the intercom: “I will not be making a comment today, not tomorrow, not next week, not next month, or not even next year.”
The media has not quite seen it like that. In fact, neither she nor Mr Leslie has made any public comment whatsoever about the suggestion that, in 1988, he was the unnamed man who was alleged to have raped Ms Jonsson when she was the weather presenter at TV-am, an incident described in her autobiography, Honest.
But the destruction of Mr Leslie’s career was down to a lethal mix of frenzy and showbiz gossip, fuelled by newspapers willing to report the anonymous claims of a number of women against Mr Leslie.
Ironically, the story of Ms Jonsson’s alleged rape was almost overlooked amid another tabloid scramble – the one relating to her affair with the England football manager, Sven Goran Eriksson, first revealed earlier in the year. Then there were the relationships between the Swedish-born television presenter and various other celebrities, her failed marriage and the heart defect suffered by her daughter, Bo.
All of these rich pickings were no doubt at the forefront of the minds of the Daily Mail executives – normally no slouches in the sex ‘n’ celebrity stakes – which missed the rape claims after they paid an estimated £700,000 for the serial rights to Honest last autumn, buying chapters that did not include the account.
In it, Ms Jonsson did not name the “good-looking presenter” who asked her for a date when she was on a filming assignment. But, as she described, the night went horribly wrong when he launched himself at her: “I landed on my back and remember saying out loud, ‘No, no, don’t.’ This was the first point that I began to feel fear.
“I felt that I had somehow lost control of him and that I didn’t have the power to stop him … all that I could do was beat with my fists on his back and kick a little with my legs. He ignored me.”
But, as part of the promotional blitz, Ms Jonsson had also agreed to an accompanying documentary, Ulrika Jonsson: The Trouble with Men, during which she described the incident on camera. After the press saw previews of the film, their excitement knew no bounds and the rumour mill over the identity of her attacker began turning.
Over the next few days, Mr Leslie’s name was being openly, but not publicly, linked to the claims by Ms Jonsson. Other women came forward to make similar allegations to the press about the same man. His identity an open secret in media circles, Mr Leslie looked uncomfortable as the controversy was discussed on his show This Morning.