Chipping Norton set

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The Chipping Norton set refers to a group of media, political and show-business acquaintances who have homes around (but not in) the market town of Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire, England.[1] Chipping Norton is located approximately 75 miles from London. Members of the Chipping Norton set regularly met socially,[citation needed] but the group gained notoriety in the wake of the News International phone hacking scandal, which directly involved members of the group.[2] Notable meetings of the group have included Rebekah and Charlie Brooks's wedding reception near Chipping Norton, a 2010 Christmas dinner at the Brookses', and Elisabeth Murdoch and Matthew Freud's 2011 Summer party at Burford Priory.[according to whom?]

The core members of the group have been directly involved in the News International phone hacking scandal[citation needed]. Several members of the set, and attendees of their social functions, have been victims of phone hacking by the News of the World.

The term "Chipping Norton set" was included in the 19th edition of Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, published in 2012.[3]


In 2012, The Daily Telegraph identified the following people as being part of a "Chipping Norton Set":

  • Racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks, and Rebekah Brooks (née Wade), former CEO of News International, editor of The Sun and News of the World. Charlie was introduced to Rebekah by Jeremy Clarkson. The Brookses have holidayed with Elisabeth Murdoch and Matthew Freud on their yacht, and the Oppenheimer-Turners at their house in St Tropez.[4] Rebekah Brooks has been friends with Elisabeth Murdoch for more than a decade. In 2001, she was a guest at Elisabeth's wedding to Freud and among a select group invited to her bridal shower.[5] The Brookses live in Sarsden, Oxfordshire, four miles from Chipping Norton. A September 2012 interview with Charlie Brooks was headlined "Founder member of the Chipping Norton Upset", Brooks explained that the "Upset" is a family in-joke, in response to the claim that he and his wife are part of the Chipping Norton set, which he called "a figment of one journalist's imagination".[6]
  • David and Samantha Cameron.[2] Chipping Norton lies in the constituency of Witney, for which David Cameron, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and the former leader of the Conservative Party, was the Member of Parliament. Cameron's home is in Dean. David Cameron has also accompanied the Heythrop Hunt, which is based in Chipping Norton, on six occasions.[7]
  • Jeremy Clarkson, broadcaster and journalist, then presenter of Top Gear.[8] Prime Minister David Cameron appeared as Top Gear's The Stig in a video message for Clarkson's 50th birthday.[9] Clarkson writes a column for The Sun, which is owned by News International.
  • Charles Dunstone, chairman and co-founder of Carphone Warehouse.[2]
  • Tony Gallagher, property developer, owner of Gallagher Estates.[2]
  • Steve Hilton and Rachel Whetstone. Hilton was Cameron's director of strategy, and his wife Rachel is the global head of communications and public policy for Google. They live in Burford.[2] Hilton and Whetsone were godparents to the Camerons' deceased son, Ivan.[10]
  • Alex James, author, cheesemaker, and bassist of Blur.[2] James owns a 200-acre farm in Kingham, 4 miles south-west of Chipping Norton. James has hosted an annual food and music festival on the farm. The inaugural 2011 event left creditors owed close to £1m when the promoters of the fair went bankrupt. James was photographed with Clarkson and Cameron at the 2011 festival.[11] James and Jamie Oliver have presented The Big Feastival, a food and music festival since 2012.[12]
  • Elisabeth Murdoch, CEO of media production company Shine Limited, daughter of News Corporation CEO Rupert Murdoch, and sister of News Corporation executive and former chairman of BSkyB James Murdoch.[2] Elizabeth Murdoch was then married to Matthew Freud, owner of Freud Communications, and the couple owned Burford Priory.[13] Clarkson has stated that Murdoch and Freud live in Burford, "which to most people in Chipping Norton, myself included, is basically France."[8]
  • Emily Oppenheimer Turner, journalist and painter, and William Turner, businessman.[2][14] Emily is the granddaughter of Sir Philip Oppenheimer, who ran the De Beers diamond empire; she is married to William Turner, director of The Hospital Group, Ltd. and former head of Sky Pictures, a division of BSkyB.[2][14] Turner worked as the head of Carlton films at Carlton Communications during David Cameron's time as director of corporate affairs at Carlton.[15]
  • Howard Stringer, chairman of Sony Corporation, appointed by David Cameron to his Business Advisory group.[2]
Other prominent local residents

Lord Bamford, chairman of J. C. Bamford (JCB) and his wife Carole live in Daylesford House in nearby Daylesford, Gloucestershire. Anthony Bamford is a major donor to the Conservative party.[16]

Notable gatherings[edit]

Brookses' wedding reception[edit]

The guestlist for Rebekah and Charlie Brooks' wedding reception near Chipping Norton in 2009 was described by The Guardian as a "powerlist." Guests included Prime Minister Gordon Brown, leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron, and the CEO of News Corporation Rupert Murdoch.[17] Rebekah Brooks was the editor of The Sun at the time of her marriage.

The couple repeated their vows in a lakeside ceremony in front of 240 guests, who included Jeremy Clarkson—at whose house the couple met, Will Lewis, Charles Dunstone, Dow Jones chief executive Les Hinton; and Rupert Murdoch's children James, Elisabeth, and her husband Matthew Freud.[16]

2010 Christmas dinner[edit]

On 23 December 2010, James Murdoch and Prime Minister David Cameron were guests at a dinner at the home of Rebekah and Charlie Brooks.[18] Brooks was by then chief executive of News International (a subsidiary of News Corporation), and Murdoch was chairman of BSkyB in which News Corporation has a controlling minority stake. The meal took place two days after Cameron had been forced to replace the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, as the minister scrutinising News Corporation's bid for BSkyB. Until April 2012 Cameron had refused to issue an outright denial that he spoke about BSkyB during the dinner with Murdoch in 2010.[18]

Murdoch confirmed that they had discussed the bid at the dinner in his testimony to the Leveson Inquiry in April 2012.[18] James Murdoch said he sought assurances at the meal that Jeremy Hunt, who took over Cable's brief, would be more "objective", Cable had told undercover Daily Telegraph reporters he had "declared war on Mr Murdoch." Cable was referring to James Murdoch's father, Rupert.[18]

Cameron was accused in 2011 of breaking Parliament's ministerial code of conduct by failing to avoid a possible conflict of interest in attending the Christmas dinner, but he refused to allow an inquiry by Cabinet Secretary Gus O'Donnell. Cameron declared in Parliament that he had "never had one inappropriate conversation" and that he "completely took myself out of any decision-making about this bid". A spokesman later said that Cameron had "not been involved in any of the discussions about BSkyB."[18] James Murdoch has met Cameron twice since he became Prime Minister, at the Christmas dinner at the Brooks' and a lunch at Chequers in November 2010.

Before Murdoch's testimony in April 2012 fellow dinner guest Jeremy Clarkson claimed in July 2011 that Murdoch could not have discussed the BSkyB with Cameron as the Prime Minister and Rebekah Brooks had spent the entire evening discussing sausage rolls.[8] In her testimony to the Leveson Inquiry Rebekah Brooks stated that she and Cameron had attended a second party a few days later on Boxing Day, at her sister-in-law's house.[19]

2011 summer party at Burford Priory[edit]

On 2 July 2011 Elisabeth Murdoch and her husband Matthew Freud threw a party at their home, Burford Priory.[20] The party began at 7pm on the Saturday evening, with dancing continuing until 4am. Two marquees were available to guests provided by entrepreneur Nick Jones, who had created two miniature versions of his London restaurants, Pizza East and Cecconi's.[20] Jones was accompanied by his wife, broadcaster Kirsty Young. Those 'sleeping over' were offered Sunday brunch.[20]

The following day, Nick Davies published revelations in The Guardian that the News of the World had intercepted messages on the mobile phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler. This would profoundly affect the lives of the Chipping Norton set. The Daily Mail would describe the party as the "Chipping Norton set's final hurrah."[20]


Guests from politics included Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove and Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries Ed Vaizey. Former Labour cabinet ministers included Peter Mandelson, David Miliband, James Purnell and shadow minister Douglas Alexander. Former Secretary of State for Culture, Tessa Jowell attended with her estranged husband, David Mills. Jowell was a victim of hacking by the News of the World.[20] Steve Hilton and Rachel Whetstone were present as were prominent BBC employees including the director-general Mark Thompson, executive Alan Yentob,[20] Jeremy Clarkson and Robert Peston.[20] Will Lewis, the group general manager of News International, was also at the party. Criticism has been raised concerning the close relationship between Peston and Lewis.[21]

News Corporation guests included James Murdoch, then deputy chief operating officer of News Corporation, with Rebekah Brooks, who resigned as CEO of News International a week after the party on 15 July, and was arrested by police officers from Operation Weeting and Operation Elveden two days later on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications and on suspicion of making corrupt payments to public officials.[22] Rupert Murdoch's biographer Michael Wolff later claimed that Elisabeth Murdoch had said that her brother James and Rebekah Brooks had "fucked the company".[23]

Channel 4 presenter Jon Snow attended, and CNN presenter and former editor of the Daily Mirror, Piers Morgan, arrived with his wife, Celia Walden. Upon arriving at the party Morgan is said to have quipped "'I've never seen so many people who hate each other together in one room." [20]

Attendees from the entertainment world included actress Helena Bonham Carter, explorer Bear Grylls and TV presenter Mariella Frostrup, comedian Patrick Kielty, and singer Lily Allen and her husband.[20] Businessmen David Tang and Andrew Davis were also guests.[20]


A horse, Raisa, was loaned to Rebekah Brooks by the Metropolitan Police from 2008–2010, stabled at the Brooks' farm and was subsequently returned to the police in a "poor condition."[24][25] In March 2012, David Cameron confirmed that he had ridden the horse with Charlie Brooks before he became Prime Minister in 2010.[25] Cameron had previously stated that he had not. The leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband said that Cameron was in danger of becoming a symbol of "how leading politicians get too close to the powerful media."[25]

Cameron apologised for a "confusing picture" to emerge over his connection to Raisa. Cameron said that he was sorry to hear that Raisa "is no longer with us...I think I should probably conclude by saying I don't think I will be getting back into the saddle any time soon." [25] On Charlie Brooks, Cameron had earlier told 5 News, "He is a friend of mine of 30 years' standing and a neighbour in my constituency, so that's a matter of record. But since I have been prime minister I think I have been on a horse once, and it wasn't that one." [25] Before Cameron confirmed that he had ridden the horse, Jeremy Clarkson said of the affair that "I can categorically state that he never rode that horse. I do actually live there. It's all rubbish." [25]


Nick Cohen wrote in the Observer in May 2012 that "The non-Murdoch press will not shirk our duty to recall the fabulous social whirl that was once the "Chipping Norton Set." We will remind you of how Brooks, Elisabeth Murdoch and Matthew Freud slapped and scratched the backs of David and Samantha Cameron at country homes, while Jeremy Clarkson flitted in and out of their parties – gambolling through the Cotswolds like a portly court fool." [26]

Peter Oborne described the Chipping Norton set as "an incestuous collection of louche, affluent, power-hungry and amoral Londoners",[27] while Christina Odone said that "Chipping Norton remains a state of mind. It’s where the stars of Westminster and White City can be machos of the manor, shooting, riding and drinking...Top Londoners who can afford the £750,000 per cottage lifestyle here lead a phoney county life where a BlackBerry is charged, not picked...Anywhere else in the world, country folk are desperate to appear city sophisticates; it's only in Britain that urbanites invest millions in buying a "country" pedigree." [28]

Comedian Graeme Garden, who has lived locally for 30 years, said, "I can think of more acceptable reasons for Chipping Norton to be put on the map, rather than through any association with sleazy journalism... But Chipping Norton will get over it." [29] The Mayor of Chipping Norton said that "We would prefer to be put on the map for more positive things." [29] His wife, the mayoress, added, "Surely people are allowed to have supper at Christmas with their neighbours...Such a lot has been made of the celebrity factor. But we have a lot of well-known people in the area...because it is a beautiful place, and people are allowed to get on with things." [29]

In his book I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan, fictional conservative ex-BBC presenter Alan Partridge said that he "would love to live in Chipping Norton; Brooks, Cameron, Clarkson, Murdoch. Drinking champagne and laughing our heads off at everyone else."[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tom Watson; Martin Hickman (19 April 2012). Dial M for Murdoch: News Corporation and the Corruption of Britain. Penguin Books. pp. 111–. ISBN 978-0-241-96105-6. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Caroline Dewar (5 March 2012). "Who's who in the Chipping Norton set". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  3. ^ Jennifer Cockerell (27 September 2012). "'Big society' makes it into Brewer's Dictionary". The Independent. Retrieved 7 October 2012.
  4. ^ Stephen Glover (8 June 2009). "Will Rupert enjoy this modern tale of Antony and Cleopatra?". The Independent. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  5. ^ Susanna Andrews (8 February 2012). "Untangling Rebekah Brooks". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 12 May 2012.
  6. ^ Roy Grennslade (9 September 2012). "Rebekah Brooks's husband - 'people don't know the true story yet'". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 October 2012.
  7. ^ Chris Hastings (28 August 2011). "Cameron's embarrassment as Chipping Norton Set's favourite huntsman faces court over illegal hunting". The Daily Mail. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  8. ^ a b c Helen Lewis (17 July 2011). "Jeremy Clarkson defends the "Chipping Norton set"". New Statesman. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  9. ^ Hugh Grant (12 April 2011). "The bugger, bugged". New Statesman. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  10. ^ Wendell Steavenson (25 April 2010). "Born to lead - but where?". Prospect. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  11. ^ Jay Rayner (4 March 2011). "Blur star Alex James tells of shock and fury over farm festival that became a financial nightmare". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  12. ^
  13. ^ "£40,000 Raid on Burford Priory". Oxford Mail. Newsquest. 26 March 2009.
  14. ^ a b Cassandra Jardine (3 April 2002). "'We're not useless upper-class girls'". The Telegraph. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  15. ^ "William Tuner - Executive profile". Bloomberg L.P. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  16. ^ a b Vikram Dodd (31 May 2010). "Conservatives confirm leading party donor withdrew from peerage list". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  17. ^ Stephen Brook (14 June 2009). "Conservatives confirm leading party donor withdrew from peerage list". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  18. ^ a b c d e Gordon Rayner (24 April 2012). "James Murdoch discussed BSkyB bid with David Cameron over dinner". The Telegraph. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  19. ^ Ian Katz (5 March 2012). "More details emerge of Rebekah Brooks and David Cameron's cosy Christmas". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Simon Walters; Glen Owen (17 July 2011). "Chipping Norton Set's final hurrah: How Elisabeth Murdoch threw decadent priory party with Mandelson, Cameron's cronies and BBC's Robert Peston hours before Dowler scandal broke". The Daily Mail. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  21. ^ Ian Burrell (11 July 2011). "BBC in a spin over Robert Peston's inside track to News International". The Independent. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  22. ^ Vikram Dodd (24 April 2012). "Rebekah Brooks arrested over phone-hacking allegations". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  23. ^ Jamie Doward; Lisa O'Carroll (16 July 2011). "Murdochs 'in family fallout' over crisis". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  24. ^ "Police horse lent to Rebekah Brooks was in 'poor' state on return". BBC News Online. 29 February 2012. Retrieved 12 May 2012.
  25. ^ a b c d e f Helene Mulholland (2 March 2012). "David Cameron horse saga ridiculous but symbolic, says Ed Miliband". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 May 2012.
  26. ^ Nick Cohen (6 May 2012). "Why Cameron daren't cast Murdoch adrift". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 May 2012.
  27. ^ Peter Oborne (7 June 2011). "David Cameron is in the sewer because of his News International friends". The Telegraph. Retrieved 12 May 2012.
  28. ^ Christina Odone (7 June 2011). "Notebook: the Cotswolds, where City boys parade as machos of the manor". The Telegraph. Retrieved 12 May 2012.
  29. ^ a b c Caroline Davies (7 October 2011). "Phone hacking connection is Chipping Norton's unwanted claim to fame". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 March 2012.
  30. ^ "Alan Partridge interviewed by Richard Bacon - audio". The Guardian. 6 October 2011.