The Mail’s editor, Paul Dacre, considers it a compliment when critics accuse the paper of moralizing. “The family is the greatest institution on God’s green earth,” he told me recently, sitting on a dotted-swiss sofa in his London office, which is swagged in the camels and burgundys, the brasses and woods, that one would expect of a man who, as a student at the University of Leeds, chanted “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh” but now says, “For the life of me, I’m not quite sure why.” According to one editor, Dacre is enamored with New Zealand: “He thinks it’s like Britain from the nineteen-fifties.” This retrograde mind-set has recently been notable in the Mail’s insistence that marriage should be solely between a woman and a man.
The paper, which runs to about a hundred pages a day, is not all gloom. It has an equable rhythm. The serious stuff is supplemented by a beguiling lineup of novelty stories (the girl who eats nothing but chicken nuggets), animal stories (the surfing hippopotamus), personal essays (“I married a skinflint!”), barely disguised press releases (cranberry-cheese-flavored crisps on sale at Tesco), recipes, gossip, crosswords, obituaries, amusing pictures, and heartwarming fluff. The Mail is the place to go if you want to see a house that looks like Hitler, or a tabby with its head encased in a slice of bread. These are, as the former Daily Express editor Arthur Christiansen, one of Dacre’s heroes, once wrote, the “human twiddly bits that make for conversations in the pubs.”