The Fake Sheikh Review 2023 Tv Show Series Cast Crew Online
Fergie and Sven-Göran Eriksson were among the stars duped by tabloid journalist Mazher Mahmood’s fake Arabic garb – before he was jailed. This dramatic documentary looks at the dark tale Like Frank Zappa’s Sheikh Yerbouti, Mazher Mahmood’s appropriation of Arabic dress leaves a nasty aftertaste.
In his pomp, between the mid-1990s and his sentence for perverting the course of justice in 2016, the award-winning Brummie red-top hack of Punjabi heritage revelled in his self-endowed honorific – the king of sting. He mugged off a series of gullible celebrities, including a page three model, the Duchess of York and the England manager while posing as the Fake Sheikh. These tabloid takedowns won him journalism’s top awards, but in retrospect some of them read like entrapment.
And yet sometimes, as Ceri Isfryn’s three-part series reminds us, the Fake Sheikh did the world a service. One of his earliest stings was on then Newcastle United chair Freddie Shepherd and his deputy, Douglas Hall. Long before real Arabs took over the football club, a fake one exposed how it was run by misogynistic buffoons.
Mahmood lured the pair to a swanky villa in Marbella, got them on film calling Newcastle girls “dogs” and admitting replica shirts were overpriced, then took them to a lapdancing club and later to a brothel. “Brothel creep Freddy must be bonkers to knock United,” went the Mirror headline.
But how did this chancer with only one costume change manage to serially dupe his victims? Didn’t the repeated stunt have diminishing returns? Didn’t England manager Sven-Göran Eriksson have deja vu as he got suckered over champagne on the terrace of a Dubai hotel into believing that the man in the check headdress before him was really offering a coaching job at a new Emirates-based football academy? Or was Sven, like so many others, blinded by hearing what he wanted to hear? The latter, no doubt. “To get what he [Mahmood] wanted, he had to reflect the desires of the person in front of him,” says his former News of the World colleague Aylia Fox astutely.
Convicted fraudster turned News of the World tipster Paul Samrai has another theory. “He made the race card into an ace card,” says Samrai. Not just by passing himself off to largely white suckers as what he was not – an Arab. Mahmood and Samrai were first-generation British Asians who became virtuosic at presenting different personae to family and to the wider world. Or so Samrai tells us. He argues that’s why he and Mahmood felt temperamentally suited to careers predicated on lying.
As for Isfryn, she is half in love with her subject, reconstructing stings in Lanzarote hotels, Dubai yachts and Costa del Sol fleshpots with glossy production values as though this was a mashup of Ocean’s Eleven, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery and, well, The Sting.
But Isfryn also tells Mahmood’s story as a Greek drama. Her protagonist skewered the hubris of others before getting a comeuppance of his own. In doing so, she overindulges in the glee at his downfall by interviewing victims of his work, such as Emma Morgan, whose career as a page three model Mahmood destroyed with a cocaine sting.
Perhaps the saddest truth revealed by this film is not that a vainglorious celebrity and their reputation are easily separated. Rather it’s that dressing-up journalism is over. One of my colleagues spent a day roaming London dressed as Saddam Hussein, right down to the beret and moustache. Genius, but did he get Reporter of the Year like Mahmood did? Outrageously, no.
To be serious for a moment, Mahmood ruined many lives and careers. There was no multimillion plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham, but he wrote it up as if there were, compelling Posh Spice to heighten security for her and her family.