A story of deception and extreme gullibility – Paul J Guest

20 Nov

In the last year I have met a lot of people in the classical music / operatic circuit one particular acquaintance was Paul J Guest, who I had chats with on Twitter and I finally met him during the Daniel Barenboim concert at Tate Modern on 8 April 2011. He seemed friendly enough but as the night continued he seemed fond of name dropping and clearly seemed as keen on networking as he was of hairspray. He told me he was dating a well-known indie opera director and that his day job was as a repetiteur for the Birmingham Royal Ballet, like with any acquaintance one takes that kind of info with a pinch of salt and not make the effort to cross-check them.

As the months went past I noticed that his Tweets were changing their content and gave the impression that he was very well networked and was working for a number of online publications. I was thinking everything was going swimmingly for this fellow, he started writing sleeve notes for new classical releases, he seemed to be in demand for talks and even featured in a Proms programme. All this seemed too good to be true and in many ways showed how susceptible to chancers the classical PR circuit really is.

A musician friend alerted me to a change of fortunes for Paul and how he was making claims that were proven from unlikely to outright false. That and his retreat from most social media made me want to investigate in a fairly detailed manner.

Self-definition

Looking over a number of articles published by him one pattern came through clearly…in every single publication a new title will show up, a new claim to relevance would be made. Lets have a look at a few.

Huffington PostPaul Guest is a writer and playwright. Paul has written on culture for The Guardian, Huffington Post, Ceasefire Magazine, The Arbuturian and MUSO Magazine. His essays have appeared in programmes for the BBC Proms and Nimbus Records. Paul is currently writing his second play entitled ‘I’m A Stranger Here Myself’.

GuardianPaul Guest is a classical music journalist and musician – follow him on Twitter @pauljguest

Journalisted: Current/Opera and Classical Music Correspondant at The Arbuturian
Experience/Music Theatre Skewed/Bachtrack/Musiquebox Magazine

CeasefirePaul Guest is Ceasefire‘s Classical Music and Opera critic. He also contributes to MUSO magazine, WIRED, Classical Music Magazine, and is the resident interviewer at Opera Britannia.

BBC Proms Programme for Prom 51: Paul J Guest is a musicologist, curator and author of We’re Sitting in the Opera House, a new history of opera, to be released next May.

Of course the wildest and most varied claims came from his Twitter profile

From the above you would assume he was in the process of writing a book and being a playwright and any other occupation under the sun. Now, why didn’t anyone question a 19-year-old being able to make such claims?

Four weeks ago a certain PR agency that helped him get most of the gigs to date and a number of other professional supporters got an email from Mr Guest telling them that all his claims were false, that he only attended the Junior year of the Guildhall School of Music and he apologised reassuring them that he was getting help for his mental health issues.

At that point it seems the penny dropped for all his supporters and also his website and Twitter account disappeared. Thankfully a number of his tweets are still archived online giving us an interesting insight at the kind of claims he was making online alongside all the rumours he was spreading in person. He would name drop as if his life depended on it, pretending to work for the Royal Opera, the Royal College of Music amongst many more claims. Shall we look into some of them?

Claims:

He happily told people in music circles that he was commissioned by Bloomsbury to write a multi volume history of Opera book (also mentioned in his Prom 51 programme entry)

All it took was a phone call to the publishers who denied any knowledge of said book or who Mr Guest was…

He was more than happy to insinuate on twitter and to blatantly tell acquaintances and new friends that he was working for the Music Director of the Royal Opera, Antonio Pappano.

After another phone call to Pappano’s assistant we were told ‘That name means nothing to me‘.

He also claimed in writing (and on occasions bragged in person) that he had interviewed Pappano.

A couple of emails later I was assured by the Royal Opera’s press office that they had no record of him interviewing the MD. I searched for such article to no avail.

He told a lot of musicians that he was conferred a FRCM (fellow of the Royal College of Music).

Again another phone call later and a quick browse at the publicly accessible list, the only person on it with the surname Guest was a Douglas Guest who was awarded the fellowship in 1964.

The FRCMs list is available in PDF form on the RCM’s website: http://www.rcm.ac.uk/about/historyofthercm/honoursandfellowships/FRCM%202012%20updatedJF.pdf

He claimed at times that his day job was as a repetiteur (as he told me face to face) at the Birmingham Royal Ballet. Again a swift look at their website disproves that claim rather easily.
Here’s the list of their music staff: http://www.brb.org.uk/masque/index.htm?act=department&urn=118&tpl=orch1

His name dropping skills were extraordinary and overall shameless, I contacted a number of important figures in the Classical Music world only to get confirmations that they had no idea who Paul J Guest was.

My sources also informed me that he would wait for people outside the stage door of the Royal Opera House with a pile of scores and a baton, so they would get the impression he has been conducting. Numerous tweets mentioned working there…here is one:

I enquired about his self-identification as a musicologist and as an author by emailing the editor of the BBC Proms programmes only to be told that he was commissioned to write the article due to his familiarity to Emily Howard’s music output. I was told: ‘The author’s credit was supplied by the author‘ which seems a bit strange for the Proms not to look into the credentials of the commissioned writers.

But at least in retrospect this programme entry can be seen as the swan song of a man who took advantage of a lot of people on the back of the current PR trend for the cult of youth in the classical and opera world. Paul must have seemed like the perfect ambassador to carry on their ideas of renewing the frumpy old world of classical, one funky haircut at a time.

Here’s a recorded interview between the composer Emily Howard and Mr Guest.

Links

User accounts

Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/discussion/user/paulguest

Journalisted: http://journalisted.com/paul-guest

Published articles/blogs

Own blog used to be here: http://www.paul-guest.net/ but was allowed to expire

The Arbuturian

http://www.arbuturian.com/author/paulguest

The Huffington Post UK

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/paul-guest/

Ceasefire

http://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/category/blogs/paul-guest-music-notes/

The Guardian (culture professionals network)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture-professionals-network/culture-professionals-blog/2012/mar/22/music-in-offices-workplace-choirs

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture-professionals-network/culture-professionals-blog/2012/sep/07/last-night-proms-classical-audiences

Bachtrack.com

Two articles found here: http://www.bachtrack.com/reviews/list/3273

Opera Britannia

The Paul Guest Column: http://www.opera-britannia.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=507

 

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12 Responses to “A story of deception and extreme gullibility – Paul J Guest”

  1. simon page 20 November 2012 at 9:17 pm #

    Isn’t it ironic that someone who hides behind anonymity in a blog should ‘out’ someone who is young, impressionable, clearly in need of help, but actually quite good at the quality of work he produces. I note that for all the criticism and finger pointing, no credit is afforded to Paul for some quite outstanding contributions to the otherwise self-interested, self-obsessed classical music and opera circuit. All of you ready to cast stones at this young man, stupid and deluded though he might have been, clearly saw some talent and merit in what he was contributing. Some of you idiots even paid him for such work….more than once!! Whatever the motivation behind this revengeful piece of trite prose, I wonder who really needs to learn a lesson? I am sure Paul will never work in this arena again but he has taught you gullible fools a really valuable lesson. One can only hope that people who are supposedly older and experienced enough to know better will think twice before using the next poor sap to further your own ends. Disgraceful all round but none more than this shameful article……put your talents to better use Sir.

    • George aka OperaCreep 20 November 2012 at 11:50 pm #

      Simon, thanks for reading. As you can appreciate I did do my homework about Mr Guest and actually my anonymity and lack of self-interest professionally in the field helps. It was not a vengeful piece against him, more of a warning to certain people in the business that are always on the look out for a new poster boy to bolster their views. Paul was there at the right place at the right time and he clearly managed to manipulate and charm enough people to get himself accepted and promoted.
      A lot of musicians were outraged by his behaviour and wild claims and felt helpless to broadcast the truth. A lot of people that supplied leads would have been unable to speak on the record because of their professional obligations. Thus my anonymity is serving a purpose. Of course the readers are free to make their own mind up if my presentation of this case is insensitive or self-serving.

  2. Kimon 22 November 2012 at 12:01 am #

    Paul approached me at Classical Music magazine with a pitch for an article – about Aurora Orchestra if I remember correctly. I gave him a chance. Why not? We try, in pretty small ways, to support young people trying to make a go of it. Even after reading this, I don’t feel hoodwinked. He was promoting himself as ‘London’s youngest classical music critic’ or something along those lines. He wasn’t pretending to be experienced, just very enthusiastic. He writing was a shaky, to be honest, and I tried to give him some constructive criticism. I subsequently met him on a couple of occasions in concert intervals, and yes he repeated some of the claims you’ve checked out, but only in saying ‘I’m not writing much any more, because…’.

    If he felt the need to lie to his friends, that to me just seems sad, and as you’ve said he apologised and explained he was struggling with mental health problems. What a terrible place to find oneself, and how brave to admit it and try and move on. Is it really so reprehensible as to need an exposé?

    Did he trash anyone in print? Did he plagiarise? You don’t suggest anything of the sort. I’m just struggling to see why my reaction should be anything than concern for his well-being.

    • Kimon 22 November 2012 at 12:10 am #

      Yes, clever typo while describing someone’s writing as shaky. It’s late.

  3. Happily Anonymous 22 November 2012 at 6:58 am #

    For some 16 years I was a newspaper music and dance critic and reporter. Now I’m blissfully anonymous (apologies to Mr. Page above), but for much of that time I was a “known” name, in my city at least. The sad tale of Mr. Guest reminded me that such an occupation can seem, from the outside looking in, to have something of a glamorous mystique. I think I was attracted by that mystique at first – endless free tickets and the chance to talk to once’s heroes indeed can be very nice dreams – and it sounds like that was Mr. Guest’s entry point. What I’m saying is, I think I get it.
    But in fact, it’s an endeavor that’s a lot of hard, hard work, and it can take years (and in my case much luck) to break into a position of some stature – by which time it becomes a constant battle to juggle the whims of incompetent or craven publicists (there are rare, precious exceptions); pressure from editors – and, worse, their bosses – to make the arts always appear “fun” and/or “hot” (exceptions, etc.); and absurd space constraints (since I learned to review an opera in fewer than 300 words, Twitter holds few terrors), among others.
    But while understanding the initial allure to novices, I’m also disturbed that anyone could so easily “fake” his way into something I worked so hard at for years, building a portfolio, forging crucial relationships, etc. Even after some stature was attained, and as burnout loomed, I still put in the effort, the hours, the research, the words, the thousands of phone calls and all the strength I could muster to review the umpteenth performance of Beethoven’s Ninth, to wearily listen to yet another artist tell me how “excited” he or she was about an upcoming performance, or to pry some bit of gossip/news from a wary arts group trustee.
    Postscript: Unlike, it seems, Mr. Guest, I have in fact interviewed Mr. Pappano – in person, and in Italy of all places. Short guy, very pleasant. Publicist clearly made him do it, so when he seemed a bit distracted and bolted at the earliest decent opportunity, I understood completely. Cue that burnout!

  4. anonymous 22 November 2012 at 8:35 am #

    I think the surprising thing here is not so much that a 19 year old ‘tries it on’ and makes one or the other wild claim. It would be sad for Paul if it’s all down to mental health issues so let’s hope he gets appropriate treatment.
    The surprising thing, at least for me, is that so many from ‘within the industry’ have if not supported, but at least fallen for it. Writing books, teaching at Guildhall, conducting at the ROH, and all within a year or two years of taking A levels? Happens all the time, doesn’t it…

  5. Simon Thomas 22 November 2012 at 8:35 am #

    There’s something slightly disturbing in all this. I got to know Paul a bit personally and I was always flabberghasted that PRs and editors couldn’t see that his writing was poor and he had very little to say (which is hardly surprising for a teenager). I put his apparent “success” down to an enviable chutzpah. I can’t see any real evidence here that he did much more than big himself up a bit. The only actual “fraud” he practised was in taking money for dross but that’s a charge that can be levelled at a number of professional journalists (and many other people in most walks of life). As you suggest, there may have been a blindness caused by the desire to give classical music a young and trendy face. It happens a lot. Besides, quality is in the eye of the beholder, especially with something as insubstantial as arts journalism. If there is an issue of mental health here, I hope he is getting the help and support he needs.

  6. Mark Valencia 22 November 2012 at 12:35 pm #

    This affair says more about the gullibility of commissioning editors trying to reach out to ‘yoof’ than it does about the errors of an aspiring young writer. I too have met Paul at numerous press nights: he is a schmoozer of genius but hardly a danger to society, so I prefer to cut him some slack. We’re not quite in Joyce Hatto-ville here.

    • George aka OperaCreep 22 November 2012 at 1:03 pm #

      I agree, he fitted in the mould that is on trend right now and the editors/PR people were happy to support him. Interestingly quite a few of them are washing their hands pretending to be the innocent party…oh the irony.

    • Simon Thomas 22 November 2012 at 1:10 pm #

      This is a tale of two pities: one of a sad young man who very quickly got out of his depth and the other of media outlets struggling with the internet age (and all it entails) and mistaking hubris for talent. Both are forgiveable but it would be great if lessons were learned. Alas, I fear…

    • Jeremy Pound 6 December 2012 at 11:12 am #

      Agreed. A bit of a storm in a teacup, all this. Paul wrote to me in June last year pitching some ideas. First thing I did – as we do with all pitches – is to look at previous articles he’d done. At which point I said ‘thanks, but no thanks’.

      Not that difficult, really…

      Jeremy
      Deputy editor, BBC Music Mag

      • George aka OperaCreep 6 December 2012 at 12:47 pm #

        Thanks for the comment Jeremy, I never claimed it was the scoop of the century but it was worth publishing as a lot of people in the field did get misled by him. Setting the record straight was, in my opinion, worth pursuing.

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