By Valerie Hanley
RARELY has a nonfiction book created such a sensation. It dominated news headlines for a week, kept text lines to radio chatshows buzzing and even featured on RTÉ’s highbrow Questions And Answers.
Indeed, such was the level of unease caused by the contents of The High Society’s exposé of rampant drug abuse among Ireland’s privileged middleclass, that Taoiseach Bertie Ahern found himself being quizzed in the Dáil about whether he had chosen a cocaine user for a minister.
The author, previously unknown journalist Justine Delaney Wilson, has suddenly become a household name.
The 33-year-old Dubliner says she met a serving Government minister who freely admitted to regularly using cocaine. He made his lurid confession in the confines (where else?) of that legendary politicians’ watering hole, Buswell’s Hotel.
The mother-of-two also claims an airline pilot told her that he found it difficult to sit in a cockpit without first taking a few lines of cocaine.
Among others who feature in Mrs Wilson’s incredible book are a nun with a cocaine habit, a priest who spends his spare time driving around the countryside desperately feeding his addiction for over-the counter drugs and a number of medics who flout ethical guidelines so they can overprescribe for themselves and their families.
All racy stuff so much so that the Sunday Independent snapped up the serialisation rights and splashed Mrs Wilson’s extraordinary claims over its pages, even though none of the dramatis personae was named by the author and serious doubts have been cast over her claim to have met a coke-snorting Cabinet minister.
So how do Mrs Wilson’s claims stand up to scrutiny? And what is the background of this woman who has swept to prominence, apparently from nowhere?
The mother-of-two told us that she met her New Zealand husband, Matthew Wilson, early in 1997 while on a night out during a rugby international weekend. She says that, not unlike many couples of their gener ation, the besotted pair had a child together soon after and that their firstborn, Morgan, arrived in August 1998 – 18 months after the pair met.
But when we checked her story against publicly available records, a somewhat different picture emerged.
At the time the then Miss Delaney claims to have been swept off her feet by Mr Wilson, she was living in the less-than-glamorous surroundings of Kilmainham with her infant son, Morgan, and the child’s father customer support representative Fergus McCaffrey.
Her second son, Reuben, was born a year ago last September and Justine’s husband, Matthew, is named on the birth certificate as his father.
Matthew, Justine insists, is a physiotherapist at the exclusive millionaires’ playground, the K Club, which last year hosted the prestigious Ryder Cup.
Yet according to the club’s human resources department, Mr Wilson has a humbler position there. He is, in fact, supervisor of the club’s spa.
Though she claims to have been a well-paid freelance journalist for more than a decade, the only cuttings from her print career she produced were half a dozen editions of Irish Tatler and House And Home magazines.
The articles under her byline were about about salsa dancing, home interiors, the premature birth of her oldest son and an Irishwoman who married a Libyan Muslim.
She also showed the MoS some copies of an in-house magazine for Dublin’s Rotunda Hospital.
But staff and management at all these publications struggle to remember her. Bestselling author and columnist Morag Prunty was editor of Irish Tatler for much of the 90s until 1999.
She said: ‘She’s just not ringing a bell for me. She may have done some freelance work for me and I would not have necessarily met her. I don’t have any recollection of her.’ Another senior IT stalwart who worked with the magazine from 1996 until 2001 could not recall her either.
‘Her name honestly does not ring a bell. Sorry. Nope I’ve never heard of her,’ she said. Mrs Wilson also failed to leave a lasting impression at the Ashfield Media Group, based on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay in Dublin, which produces the in-house magazine for the Rotunda.
Human resources director Niall Batt said: ‘She’s not ringing any bells with me unless she was an outside contractor or contributor. She never edited our maternity guide. She could have been asked to contribute something.
‘She’s not popping up here. Our production director doesn’t know of her except for her book.’ Senior editorial staff at House And Home magazine could not recall her either and despite the fact that she now lists her occupation as ‘television producer’, the companies she says she worked with insist she never produced.
Tyrone Productions would only confirm that Mrs Wilson had done some work for them, and Stop watch, the makers of programmes such as Meet The Family, said Justine had worked as a researcher.
‘She researched for us on Meet The Family, Mother Knows Best and Families in Trouble,’ a spokeswoman said.
A staff member at VIP Productions had no recollection of her working there. ‘Her name doesn’t ring a bell at all. She might have worked on Class Reunion,’ he said.
Asked about her book’s claims, publisher Gill and Macmillan said: ‘We are satisfied that the book is based on entirely authentic material. We took full safeguards and precautions to ensure all material in the book was recorded and authenticated.
‘This material is being kept by us in safekeeping. It was thoroughly reviewed, listened to and considered.
The names and identities of all those in the book are known to us as publishers and have been verified to our complete satisfaction.’
Asked to comment on the apparent disparities in Mrs Wilson’s CV, the publisher added: ‘In our opinion, there is no reason whatsoever for Mrs Wilson to reply to any of the questions raised by you.’