Demon king of the paparazzi

Francois Navarre has gone from Le Monde photojournalist to king of the Hollywood paparazzi

News LAST UPDATED AT 08:47 ON Tue 1 Apr 2008

Francois Regis Navarre is admitting to putting Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan into rehab, and Paris Hilton in jail - "in a way". He has become the demon-king of the Hollywood paparazzi, the man who re-invented celebrity culture and is now loathed, envied and grudgingly revered in equal measure.

Navarre, 45, has enjoyed a shadowy notoriety for years. But his day of infamy came when Britney Spears shaved off her hair in the gesture that established her as Number One tabloid train wreck. His photograph of Britney, head just shaved, staring forlornly into the mirror, earned him $80,000 for first use alone.

Wisely, Navarre has spent his years as a pap hiding behind his nom de guerre - his middle name 'Regis' - and his agency X17. But he has stepped out of the shadows to talk to America's highbrow Atlantic magazine for a cover story ­- Britney on the cover! - which describes how the new breed of paparazzi created "Hollywood's most addictive entertainment product", with more fans following the hour-to-hour antics of its 'stars' than go the cinema.

What was once showbiz gossip has become a voyeuristic dance binding star to fan in pseudo intimacy. The 24/7 chase does not record the quarry's life so much as script it.

"I don't want to say anything," he boasts, "but in a way, X17 put three stars into rehab, if not in jail, last year."

Navarre lives in a $4m Pacific Palisades house next to the comedy actor Adam Sandler, and has two children, aged five and three. He is a transplant from France, a pioneer of Sarkozy's embrace of the American Way. He arrived in Los Angeles to cover the riots of 1992 for Le Monde but went broke maintaining Gallic standards of photo-journalism. He metamorphosed into Regis when by chance he snapped a celeb out shopping and scored $2,000.

He met his wife Brandy door-stepping in Frank Sinatra's driveway and Brandy joined him undercover as 'Kelly', running internet sales and their own website. They are not without shame. "You know," she sighed to Atlantic, "I want my kids to get into the good private schools around here, and I don't want them to know what we do."

Navarre changed the rules by finding the answer to the paparazzo's old dilemma: how to cover all exits at once. "I realised there was a way to solve this problem, if I let go of my ego." He hired squads of men with no experience, mostly Brazilian car parkers and pizza delivery men, gave them cameras and organised them into teams. He directs them by mobile phone. MBF, the Britney team, earned $6m last year in 40,000 man hours.

"To be a pap, you have to be ready to do anything, legal or illegal," says one. "It is the stripping away of a star's protective veneer that drives them nuts. In the end, the only intimacy left is between pap and prey."

The nastiest aspect of all is that Navarre gets his tips from treacherous Sam Lufti, Britney's confidant, and Michael Lohan, Lindsay's Dad. There is nothing left that a moment of fame won't buy. · 

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