The chief executive of Sony Music was made a CBE in the New Year’s honours list after an £18,000-a-month PR firm chased nomination letters from celebrities including James Corden, the Daily Mail can reveal.
Leaked emails reveal the behind-the-scenes work carried out in an attempt to secure a knighthood for Rob Stringer – the record boss who signed Adele and One Direction to Columbia before moving to Sony in 2017.
The astonishing messages reveal:
Mr Stringer met the British consul general in New York after he was told the official could influence the honours system in his favour;
TV presenter Nick Owen, magazine editor Dylan Jones and film executive Ged Doherty all provided letters of endorsement after being chased by the PR firm;
PR boss Paul Blanchard tried to coach Gavin and Stacey star Corden how to construct an endorsement letter for the Sony boss;
Celebrities including Jo Whiley and Pharrell Williams also provided endorsement letters for Mr Stringer (but were not contacted by Mr Blanchard).
Leaked emails reveal the behind-the-scenes work carried out in an attempt to secure a knighthood for Rob Stringer (left) – the record boss who signed Adele (centre) and One Direction to Columbia before moving to Sony in 2017
Mr Blanchard’s firm, Right Angles PR, was paid a $24,200 (£17,700) monthly retainer by Sony Music for PR work and to introduce commercial deals. It began in 2018 and ended in 2020. Both Sony Music and Mr Stringer say Mr Blanchard was not asked or retained by the company or the PR boss to nominate him for an honour or to collect supporting evidence.
Right Angles, which at the time provided a bespoke honours application service, learned that the British Phonographic Industry had nominated Mr Stringer for an honour, and began trying to help by collecting letters of endorsement. Mr Blanchard and an employee, former diplomat Daniel Rutstein, also brokered a meeting between Mr Stringer and the then consul general Antony Phillipson in September 2019 in New York.
In an exchange between the PR man and Mr Stringer the day before the meeting, Mr Blanchard implies that Mr Phillipson, one of Britain’s most senior government officials in the US at the time, could influence the honours process in his favour.
There is no suggestion Mr Phillipson acted improperly.
How PR boss briefed Sony supremo before meeting diplomat
Mr Blanchard told his client: ‘Don’t mention honours. The “K” word must never be mentioned – then he has full deniability, just like you do.’ The ‘K’ word is understood to refer to a knighthood.
Mr Blanchard adds: ‘He knows that you know that he knows, and I suspect he also knows that you know that he knows that you actually know he knows.’
In another message, Mr Stringer is told: ‘This man is a crucial piece in the jigsaw for our – ahem – secret project… as he will be the guy who is giving “the nod”. Think of him as the man from Del Monte. Except that he likes you already, is grateful for your help, and is minded to say yes. And I genuinely think you two will get on and become friends. Which is what we want.’
Mr Stringer responds to Mr Blanchard and Mr Rutstein: ‘I will not let you both down.’
A Foreign Office source said the honours system was not discussed during the meeting nor was it ever suggested Mr Phillipson had any influence over the process.
A spokesman said: ‘In all cases, honours nominations are subject to rigorous scrutiny and probity checks to assess the merits. Any suggestion that UK officials inappropriately influenced this nomination are entirely baseless.
‘Robert Stringer was awarded a CBE in recognition of his exceptional and sustained contribution to the British music business as well as charity causes and tackling discrimination.’
Owen, who has known Mr Stringer for decades through their work together at Luton Town FC, where the record boss is a director, said he was initially contacted by Mr Stringer’s wife, Julia, to endorse the application. He added: ‘He is a good friend and a hugely respected man, so of course I did.’
PR boss Paul Blanchard (left) tried to coach Gavin and Stacey star Corden how to construct an endorsement letter for the Sony boss (right)
Corden also told Mr Blanchard he would be happy to provide a letter, but did not write one.
In July 2020, the Mail revealed that Mr Blanchard’s firm boasted it could get a damehood for author Barbara Taylor Bradford in exchange for £80,000.
A source said Mr Stringer would have almost certainly have been awarded the CBE without Mr Blanchard’s interference and it was a shame his reputation would be tarnished by association. The revelations expose a shocking insight into the honours system and how individuals try to manipulate the application process.
Labour MP Chris Bryant, chairman of the standards committee, said the practice of private specialist firms attempting to secure honours for their clients should be made illegal.
Mr Blanchard said his former client had done nothing wrong and fully deserved his CBE. ‘It’s important to note the intentions of those leaking my stolen emails to you, as my friendly emails to Mr Stringer, sent in high spirits, can look damning if stripped of the necessary context,’ he added.
‘At no point did I receive any instruction to secure Rob an honour while I was working for Sony Music. This was simply my pet project, that I had proactively taken upon myself, as I wanted the positive difference that Rob has made to the community to be recognised. I owe him [Mr Stringer] a very deep apology.’
A source at Sony Music said the company had not worked with Mr Blanchard for more than 18 months and that Mr Stringer had met successive consul generals in New York for years.