Forest Hill former News of the World editor Andy Coulson went into the witness box today to defend himself against allegations of conspiracies to hack phones and pay public officials for stories.
Coulson followed co-defendant Rebekah Brooks as editor of the now-defunct Sunday tabloid between 2003 and 2007, the Old Bailey trial has heard.
In 2002, while Brooks was on holiday, Coulson, then her deputy, was in charge when murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler's phone was hacked, jurors have been told.
And he resigned following the conviction of former royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire for hacking, the court has previously heard.
The 46-year-old former Downing Street media adviser denies one count of conspiring with Brooks, former managing editor Stuart Kuttner and others to hack phones between 2000 and 2006 as well of two counts of conspiring with Goodman and others to commit misconduct in a public office.
Coulson told the court he was born and raised in Essex. He left school at 18 and went to join his local paper, the Basildon Evening Echo.
He told the jury: "I was all set to join the air force - my father was in the air force and one of my brothers. I got some work experience on the local paper via a friend and fell in love with it really."
He went on to join the Sun at the age of 21, having done shifts there while he was still at the local paper, he told the court. While there he edited the Bizarre showbiz page, he said.
Coulson said many of the stories in the Bizarre pages came from contacts, whether they were celebrities, their PR agents, their managers, or those around them.
He said: "Contacts are the most important thing for any journalist, regardless of what area they work in."
He later added: "For me, the most important thing during my time at the Sun was to get the story but also to do it in a way to maintain a relationship. It was the way I worked."
Coulson became "number 3" on the Sun as associate editor at the age of 30, he said, and later, before joining the NotW, oversaw the launch of the Sun's digital arm.
Following his resignation as editor of the NotW in January 2007, he was appointed director of communications and planning for the Conservative Party.
After the 2010 general election he then became the Prime Minister's director of communications, jurors were told.
Coulson said his job was to "oversee" a Civil Service communications team as well as doing "a direct communications job for the Prime Minister".
Coulson resigned in January 2011 and was arrested in July that year in connection with phone hacking. He was later charged in July 2012 the court heard.
Coulson told the court that, after he resigned as editor of the NotW and joined David Cameron's team, he met media mogul Rupert Murdoch "sparingly".
Asked by his lawyer, Timothy Langdale QC, what the contact was, he said: "Almost entirely at social occasions, summer party, then there were also occasions while David Cameron met with Rupert Murdoch and, although I did not sit in on those meetings, I saw him either before or after."
He said there were three meetings, two on the same day.
On contact with Mr Cameron since his resignation in January 2011, Coulson said: "My family and I spent a weekend with him in the spring after I left. I have not spoken to him since."
He added that the invitation came before he left his Downing Street job.
Coulson told the court that News International had originally agreed to pay his legal fees, but he later received a call from the chief executive saying they were no longer prepared to do so.
The court heard that he had taken his former employer to court over the issue, and as a result they were paying his legal fees.
He told the court the NotW was quite different from the Sun.
He said the Sunday paper carried with it a "bit more intrigue, a little bit more secrecy" and people held their contacts "closer to the chests".
Coulson told the court: "The first thing that surprised me was the degree of competition... competition between news and features in particular.
"It had become, frankly, destructive. It wasn't good for the paper.
"It seemed crazy that features and news were actively working against each other, not all the time but occasionally. And I think that was a cultural thing at the NotW.
"My view was that it was a waste of people's time and energy and counter-productive."
He said Brooks, who was then editor of the paper, felt the same: "I think she was aware of it and experienced it and I think we both took the view that that should change."
Coulson said among the older set of reporters there was an attitude that editors were passing through because there was a higher turnover.
On the NotW atmosphere of secrecy, he said: "It could make the job a bit more difficult because on the Sun I found people got on with it and they talked to each other. You had no choice, you had to produce a paper at speed every day.
"I don't want to say the Sun was without its reporters who would at times display ego but I think the daily paper is less forgiving of that than a Sunday paper."