Sienna Miller: Heroine of the hacking scandal
Until now, Sienna Miller has not spoken about her legal battle with the News Of The World. She breaks her silence to tell Jemima Khan about the paranoia that led to accusations against her family, her experience of dealing with the paparazzi and why she had to make a stand . . .
THEY sit in their cars, faceless and nameless, cowards hiding behind this big lens, which is Freudian enough in itself, and they steal from women..." Sienna Miller is referring to the paparazzi, who she says made her life intolerable for years.
She was door-stepped, spat at, verbally abused, harassed and stalked every night by groups of men who made it their business to be as hostile, frightening and provocative as possible. She was under constant surveillance. "It got to the point where I was agoraphobic. I didn't want to leave my house."
These days she is left alone. There are no men lurking outside her house. She can now travel on the Tube, walk her dog in the park and visit her friends unhindered. She rarely features in the red tops anymore.
After she waged war on, and won a restraining order against, Big Pictures, Britain's biggest employer of paparazzi, her life changed in an instant. "From one day to the next I went from feeling hunted and paranoid and terrified and insecure, to no one harassing me."
Miller (29) won numerous harassment and invasion of privacy cases against the tabloid press, including a 2008 settlement against Darryn Lyons, aka TV's Mr Paparazzi.
Miller filmed photographers in pursuit of her with a secret video camera, disguised as a lighter, so that she could show the judge, who was visibly shocked, how they routinely tried to cause accidents, swore at her and backed her into dark street corners.
Miller's most high-profile, high-stakes battle with the press, though, has been with Rupert Murdoch's News Of The World, which she suspected for years was illegally hacking her mobile phone.
Until now, she has been very reluctant to talk about it. Contrary to the popular canard used as defence by the tabloid press -- that an actor's success depends on publicity -- her virtual disappearance from the tabloids has, she says, benefited her career. She has six films currently awaiting release.
"My career suffered massively because I had a reputation for being a very tabloid person. I lived my twenties in a very public manner. With acting, there is a level of anonymity which is conducive to your profession. There are examples of people who are on the cover of every celebrity magazine but can't open a film."
Miller has only agreed to give this interview because she is now one of the core participants in the Leveson public inquiry into phone hacking and media ethics and because she is frustrated that her victory over the News Of The World has been portrayed as a capitulation on her part. "I was upset that it was reported as if I had just given up and settled. The real position is that there was nothing left to fight in court. In my case, and my case only, they admitted full, unconditional liability on every part of my claim."
As well as assisting with the Leveson inquiry -- alongside the parents of Madeleine McCann, actors Hugh Grant and Steve Coogan, Harry Potter creator JK Rowling and former Formula One boss Max Mosley -- she is also preparing to be a key witness in the civil action which is starting at the end of January 2012.
Hugh Grant and Steve Coogan may have recently taken impressive turns each with the baton, but it was Miller who started all the trouble, back in June 2010, when no one else dared. It was her case that was name-checked by both Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in the Select Committee hearings.
Miller started out predictably as a model just out of her teens and quickly progressed to film work -- most notably Layer Cake, Alfie, Factory Girl and The Edge of Love -- and theatre roles including As You Like It and After Miss Julie, in London and New York.
She understands that it is hard for the general public to sympathise with an actress who is famed worldwide, "especially when they see you with your first-class ticket and Burberry bag", and is the first to acknowledge that "when you know they've stooped so low as to hack a murdered girl's phone, it kind of puts all our complaints to shame".
Her story is nevertheless unsettling, even for those who are familiar with the tactics of the tabloid press.
Miller had become increasingly agitated about the idea that someone close to her was leaking stories to the press.
"I changed my mobile number three times in three months. There were messages I would never get, coupled with articles [containing private information] coming out every week. It had been going on forever, long before 2006."
There were more intimate stories that appeared in the papers, which only her closest family and friends knew about. "So I started to do tests. I would leave messages on people's phones and it would appear the next day in the papers."
Eventually, she said: "I sat down with my mother, my best friend, my sister, my boyfriend, and said someone in this room is lying and selling stories and one of you has got to admit it."
When the hacking story emerged five years ago, it confirmed her suspicions and she decided to take legal action.
Initially, she admits she was nervous. "Everyone was scared of Rupert Murdoch, even governments. People are terrified for their own reputations." She decided to act at a time when no one else dared, regardless of the consequences, she says, because she was unable to stand back and do nothing.
"The tabloid media culture in this country had got to a point where it was completely immoral.
"There was no consideration for you as a human being. You were successful, you were making money, therefore you deserved it and it was a very medieval way of behaving. I realised I couldn't continue living in this country and do my job, which I loved."
Does she think that the tabloids reflect or inform? I ask. "Both." Part of the problem, she believes, lies with British society's "hunger to see people reduced, which is bred by the tabloids".
I'm interested in whether she has grappled with the seemingly conflicting issues of privacy and freedom of information. Is privacy absolute, in her opinion? Miller concedes that it's complicated.
On one hand, she agrees that a democracy depends on a free press, on the other, she has seen how that freedom has been abused to peddle "tittle-tattle".
She's an odd mixture of prefect's manners and naughtiest girl in the school.
She arrives on time, enunciates her words, is scrupulously courteous, and offers to pay for our drinks.
Meanwhile, the rebel in her is enjoying "the revolution".
"I think the media has changed, not just in England but in the world," she says.
Miller has undoubtedly been one of the catalysts for change.