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Dan Wootton’s Celebrity Targets Revealed

In the eighth part of its three-year special investigation into the private and professional conduct of GB News star Dan Wootton, Byline Times uncovers how the powerful journalist used the pretext of ‘underwear modelling’ to target young reality TV personalities. Here, for the first time, these people in the public eye speak out

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Dan Wootton met young male reality TV stars through his work as a prominent showbusiness journalist and then privately propositioned them to do photo shoots at his home for “underwear brands” in an “abhorrent abuse of power”, Byline Times can reveal.

Among those Wootton targeted over an eight-year period between 2011 and 2019 – during which he was working for The Sun, ITV and the Daily Mail – were The Only Way is Essex star Kirk Norcoss, Big Brother contestant JJ Bird, and an X Factor singer who was just out of his teens. 

Each had first encountered Wootton – today a star presenter on GB News – as a result of their involvement in the television industry, on which it was his highly-paid job to report and through which he enjoyed a powerful media influence.

Wootton was on his first day as a columnist and feature writer for the Daily Mail in December 2011 when he approached Big Brother series 11 contestant JJ Bird, then 25, and who is today a boxing trainer having also been a pro-fighter.

Mr Bird, who refused Wootton’s offers, is among the first group of people in the public eye to discuss their interactions with Wootton. 

He told Byline Times: “Dan told me he was an amateur photographer and was ‘working with underwear brands’. He invited me to a test shoot at his flat with a fee attached. At that time, I was trying to fund my boxing career and develop my career in entertainment. Dan was a big name in the world of showbiz journalism who had the power to do that – plus anything where I was going to receive payment would obviously have been very useful.

“Looking back now, it was a complete abuse of his power and position and he should not have been offering to do that kind of thing.”

Mr Bird said Wootton contacted him first on Facebook, claiming “[there is] one person who I’m working for at the moment who’s really keen to get you for work”. 

In later messages, Wootton changed it to “two people I’m working with”, adding: “It’s just a test shoot so low key. So not for publication. Will still pay obviously. 

“Just you in various sportswear/swimwear/underwear which I’ll run by [the man I’m working for] before he decides how to do a full shoot which could be for publication. Just to be certain… could you text or email me a quick shot of you shirtless now. But I’m pretty sure we’ll wanna go ahead now because [we] don’t necessarily need you mega ripped anyway.”

Wootton followed up saying the shoot would be at “mine in E1”, adding that “they also want to know if you will do a couple of… nude shots too because they do a lot of that” and that they “don’t necessarily need your face in”.

Mr Bird declined and told Byline Times: “I wasn’t having any of that.”

During their interactions, Wootton gave Mr Bird his personal email address – the same email address he uses to this day. 

Last week, this newspaper revealed that a password connected to that address had been publicly exposed in a 2018 data breach and was identical to passwords, revealed in the same breach, connected to the emails of ‘Martin Branning’ and ‘Maria Joseph’ – two pseudonyms used to harass men to supply sexual imagery. At least one victim claimed to have been coercively controlled by ‘Branning’ for 10 years as a result.

‘Test Shoot’ Tactics

Wootton was The Sun’s associate editor in 2016 when he approached the X Factor singer – who has asked not to be named – to pose for a “photo shoot” at his home, which Wootton claimed he had done with a number of other well-known celebrities.

The celebrity singer said: “I was there to do a promotional thing with the paper. Dan Wootton was a big deal. Everyone knew he was the most powerful journalist in showbiz. 

“I obviously said no and didn’t ask which celebrities he was referring to [having also claimed to have photographed at his home] as I wasn’t vaguely interested in getting involved. I felt weird, because every prior engagement had been on a professional basis for the newspaper. 

“I remember thinking ‘why would that benefit me and what would I get from that?’”

Another celebrity, whom Byline Times is not identifying, did accept Wootton’s offer.

He said: “Dan invited me to do a ‘test shoot’ for some underwear brand for £1,000. I went along thinking it was a semi-pro shoot and might help my career because Dan was, at the time, on ITV’s Lorraine show and working for the biggest papers. The ‘studio’ was just his front room. It felt really awkward, especially as he was so well-known.

“There was nobody else there, just us. There was no backdrop or anything like that. Despite Dan telling me it was a shoot for these ‘brands’ he just gave me normal boxer shorts to wear, and I changed into them in his bedroom.

“I thought it was all strange but rolled with it. He was so influential I didn’t want to offend him somehow. Then the stuff he was asking me to wear became more and more revealing and alarm bells started to ring. He brought out latex stuff, which I refused to wear. He also asked me to pose nude but I refused to do that too. 

“The whole situation was weird and was not what I was expecting. Dan refused to pay me the full fee we’d agreed because I wouldn’t go nude. It creeped me out.”

‘It Was the Thrill and Fantasy and Power Dynamic’

In a third case, Dan Wootton approached The Only Way is Essex star Kirk Norcross on his own personal number via WhatsApp, this time on 7 September 2019, and then again on 10 September 2019 at 2am following the TV Choice Awards, which Wootton attended on behalf of The Sun.

“It would be weird for anyone to be messaging me at that time of the morning, but for Dan to be doing it to discuss modelling shoots was extra weird,” said Mr Norcross, who appeared in TOWIE between 2010 and 2013 as well as Celebrity Big Brother in 2012, and Ex on the Beach in 2015.

Again, Wootton’s approach – using his customary greeting of “hey man” – was to make a ‘“modelling” proposition, which Mr Norcross declined.

Following the publication of the first part of this newspaper’s special investigation, Wootton reached out to Mr Norcross last month to ask him to contribute to a crowdfund – which has stalled at £38,000 on the way to the £150,000 total – to apparently finance legal action against Byline Times after it unmasked Wootton as ‘Martin Branning’ and ‘Maria Joseph’.

“Can you imagine the audacity of asking someone you have targeted in this way to help fund your legal fees?” Mr Norcross said. “It was so desperate. I would encourage anyone who has had an inappropriate interaction with Dan Wootton to come forward and share their story so we can get to know the true scale of these activities.”

Byline Times has uncovered other non-celebrity incidents in which Wootton relied upon the financial power afforded by his profession to enable “extremely inappropriate” behaviour.

In an example from 25 April 2018 Wootton booked a home visit via a reputable agency for a sports massage from a 21-year-old male trainee osteopath. During the visit, the masseur – a straight man whose photo was advertised on the agency’s website – revealed to Wootton that he was struggling financially to pay his rent in London.

Four minutes after leaving Wootton’s E1 address, the masseur received a text message from Wootton, but not from Wootton’s own mobile phone number. Instead, the messages appeared to come from a number with a landline code for Royston, Hertfordshire.

The opening message read: “Hey man. Thank you so much for that. Know you just said then re double rent etc. Didn’t want to ask you while still here in case [you were] not interested. But could I potentially get you for some type of extra now? Have a 1000 budget so v v good money. Let me know before you go too far. Thanks.”

When the masseur said no, stressing that his visit was “strictly professional”, Wootton persisted by offering “modelling work outside of massage”, this time for £2,000 on the basis it would be “totally totally confidential and between us only” with the offer of immediate payment in return for posing for a nude photo shoot.

The masseur, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “Most kind people would feel sympathy for my [financial] situation – Dan used it as a tactic to try and get me to do something extremely inappropriate. I felt shocked, uneasy.”

Adding that he felt “deliberately targeted” by Wootton because of his looks, the masseur added that during the client rapport-building process, Wootton spoke about his own job.

The masseur went on: “Around his house he had some signed things and I asked him and he confirmed he was a showbiz journalist, and I looked him up afterwards.”

He added: “Nothing about the appointment itself was at all sinister, so I didn’t expect what came next. I feel my position at the time was taken advantage of. I think for Dan it was the thrill and fantasy and power dynamic. Like ‘I have the money, you’re at my house, and I’m going to test your resolve and to try to take advantage of you’.

“That role was my first experience of working privately and it was the first time anything like this had happened. I’ve always prided myself on being professional and I thought ‘is this what it will always be like?’ I felt vulnerable and exploited.”

‘We Have Serious Safeguarding Concerns’

Byline Times’ latest revelations about Wootton’s private and professional conduct raise questions about safeguarding for The Sun, the Daily Mail and ITV, according to Professor of Media Law at the University of Leeds, Paul Wragg.

“This story raises profound and deeply troubling public interest concerns,” he said. “Underlying it is an abhorrent abuse of power. There is a well-established legal principle that those who hold power – whether in government or in private organisations – must be subject to public scrutiny when their conduct falls so far below the standard expected.

“Here, we have serious safeguarding concerns that demand an explanation from ITV, the Daily Mail and The Sun, as to how one of its employees was able to use the status and charisma of his role to seduce others to bend to his will, to satisfy his own predilections, without consequence.”

Representatives for Dan Wootton did not comment, but this week told the Guardian newspaper that “Wootton did not at any time contact current or former colleagues at The Sun with offers of money in return for sexually explicit images” and “did not engage in inappropriate behaviour in the workplace”. 

He has never denied being, or being connected to, Martin Branning or Maria Joseph. But denies all allegations of criminality.  

Byline Times asked The Sun, ITV and the Mail whether any safeguarding concerns were raised about Wootton during the course of his employment with them and what, if any, action was taken. 

A spokesperson for ITV said: “At ITV, we work very hard to create an inclusive and collaborative culture. We take our responsibility of duty of care for talent and employees very seriously, and have a system of processes, including Speaking Up and a formal grievance process, for any complaints to be raised. Additionally, we would always encourage individuals to come forward and share their experiences via our reporting line SafeCall.

“The duty of care to our staff, freelancers and participants is of utmost importance. We have significantly strengthened the care given to all those who take part in our shows over the past five years. We now believe they are at an industry leading standard for the selection, protection and support of participants.”

A spokesman for dmg media, publisher of the Mail, said: “We are not aware of any safeguarding issues raised in relation to Dan’s period working as a freelance columnist for us.”

This newspaper has information regarding other individuals in the public eye and their interactions with Dan Wootton, which it will be publishing in due course, as part of the second phase of this #MediaToo investigation. 

This article was amended on 10/08/23 to correct Wootton’s role at the Daily Mail in 2011

Tom Latchem and Dan Evans are former colleagues of Dan Wootton’s from the News of the World. None of the sources in this investigation have been paid for their testimony

Have you had any inappropriate dealings with Dan Wootton that you would like to speak to Byline Times about confidentially? Email:

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