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Is Twitter the new celebrity PR?


 Is the Twitter flirtation of Liz Hurley and Shane Warne just a social buzz? Or are we witnessing an age of celebrities writing their own PR?

It all seemed so innocent: just two friends united by a mutual love of theme parks, and a total disdain for standard punctuation. “About to go on worlds fastest roller coaster,” tweeted cricketer Shane Warne back in December. “Oooooh,” replied Liz Hurley, “I love scary rides-remember to scream if u want to go faster!” And scream he did: “I screamed so loud,” Warne later reported, “I’m surprised you din not hear me back in the uk !!!” Back in the UK, as Warne correctly deduced, we did not hear him -- and neither did many suspect anything more untoward was up. And why should we have? After all, Warney -- cricketer; commentator; poker player par excellence -- was on holiday in Abu Dhabi. For her part, Hurley -- actress; model; purveyor of fine beachwear -- was snuggling by the fire in her Gloucestershire farm. What, you might wonder, could be more wholesome? Quite a lot, as it turns out. The next day, a Sunday tabloid splashed with the revelation that Liz and Shane were having an affair. Startling news for naive Twitter followers like me. What we had thought to be no more than a mild, rollercoaster-induced flirtation was evidence of a full-blown, consummated courtship. They were at it, if you’ll excuse the pun, while they were @ it.

The shock wasn’t so much that they were having an affair, but that they were having an affair in such a public fashion. We had previously witnessed relationships unfold before our eyes on reality television; but we’d rarely seen it between celebrities in the real world, and arguably not to this degree. Intentionally or not, Warne and Hurley were using Twitter to lay bare the mechanics of their burgeoning relationship -- mechanics, which, outside of reality TV, are usually only revealed involuntarily, at a later stage, and by an invasive paparazzo. This was a public soap opera being performed to us live by the stars themselves, without the mediation of gossip magazines like Heat, or Grazia.

“That’s what was so extraordinary about it -- just how open they were in their tweeting,” says Fiona McIntosh, the founding editor of Grazia and now a columnist for the London-based Sunday Mirror.

It’s even more remarkable, she points out, when you juxtapose Warne and Hurley’s openness with the ongoing phone-tapping scandal. At a time when other celebrities are increasingly vocal about the infringement of their privacy by tabloid tactics, why were Liz and Shane apparently so nonchalant about what private information they themselves made public? “Maybe they were carried away in the first flash of love,” McIntosh suggests. “That’s what I’m not sure about -- if it was a strategy or not.” But if it wasn’t a strategy in December, it had surely turned into one by the end of January. Stung by the fallout of their mid-December tweeting, Warne and Hurley maintained silence for over a month. If they were in contact, they were sticking to old-fashioned SMS. But by 27 January, that had changed. In response to a tweet from Hurley about her new parrot, Ping Pong, Warne wrote: “I’m getting jealous of ping pong ! Think it’s time you left ping pong alone for a while & come visit me in Australia.” The pair’s tweeted displays of affection were back -- and, if anything, they were more direct and revelatory than before. We learnt -- oh so casually -- that Hurley was planning a trip to see Warne, and, once she did arrive in Australia last week, we were effectively invited to play a small role in their romance. “Where is the sexiest place to take Elizabeth for lunch?” Warne asked his 330,000 followers. “And no -- not for spaghetti on toast !!!” This time, then, their tweets clearly weren’t accidental. By now, Warne and Hurley obviously knew what attention their tweeted exchanges would attract, and so what had begun as something quite ambiguous and haphazard was now being formalised as a media strategy.

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