YOU magazine was launched as a supplement to the Mail on Sunday in 1982. It turns forty this weekend, and bright is the fanfare. Thirty-two years ago almost to the day, I was celebrating my first cover story for the magazine, having been invited to join its roster on a rolling contract by maverick editor Nick Gordon: a mercurial and gifted newspaperman who rattled the Mail's cages and had to be put out to grass. That's what they thought. Scoffing at the notion of a 'mere women's glossy', he set about turning the supplement into a rival for the venerable Sunday Times magazine. His fearless efforts, including a mighty campaign to save the mountain gorillas of Rwanda, won him Magazine Editor of the Year Award three times.
Scarred by my sojourn on the Daily Mail, as I think all who worked there felt at least some of the time, I leapt at Nick's offer to write for him at YOU. I spent the next several years crossing the globe on a wide variety of missions. Not all showbiz, either: Nick was an imaginative editor who believed in raising a hack's game by flinging them vastly beyond their comfort zone. From Jordan I sent a travelogue from Petra, the rose-red city half as old as time. In Iraq, I tiptoed about terrified in a war zone. In North Dakota, I interviewed a boy called John Thompson who had fallen into a threshing machine on his family's farm when nobody else was around. He saved his own life by crawling half a mile back to the farmhouse, running a bath with his feet, immersing himself in water to curb the blood loss and phoning for his own ambulance with a pencil held in his mouth.
Musicians and movie stars were of course plentiful. We're talking the 1990s.The Elizabeth Taylor story was a gift. Dutchman Henry Wynberg had been her boyfriend during the mid-1970s, and came to us with a set of photos he had taken of her on holiday in Mexico. They walked into the magazine. Soon after my cover story appeared, Wynberg sued Liz for a share of her $70 million profits from the sale of her perfume Passion, which he claimed had been his idea. There was a half-cut Mel Gibson in Cap Ferrat; Brigitte Bardot's beautiful sister Mijanou in St. Tropez, revealing all about why she had walked away from celluloid fame; Frank Sinatra in LA - who famously never gave interviews. 'Gatecrash the party and yell him three questions,' demanded Nick. 'Come back with three answers and we've got a spread.' Recluse Kate Bush in the kitchen of her manor house in Berkshire; Joan and Jackie Collins, my role models, in LA; zoologist Jonathan Scott in the Masai Mara; Cher in Vegas; Madonna in New York; Lady Colin Campbell on her first book about Diana, in Jamaica - the snapper and I travelled there and back in a single day; Raquel Welch in LA, after which I went to live with her for a while - a whole other story; Julio Iglesias on the road in Germany, where I discovered that he paid the glamorous groupies who hung around his dressing room door; Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti in Seville, at Expo '92. Domingo, as Nick predicted, came on to me. As I wrote, 'His smile says "no", his eyes say "when?"' Donna Karan, Marco Pierre White, Rod Stewart, Eurythmics, on and on. Never a week went by that I wasn't on a plane.
I cherish the memories of commissioning editors Laurie Sharples, John Chennery, John Koski, Sandy Williams, Lulu Appleton. Deputy editor Felicity Hawkins. Nick's magnificent assistant Jackie Holland, who became a journalist herself, on the Daily Telegraph. Picture editor Harvey Mann. Those really were the days.
So successful was Nick that they sacked him, and replaced him with Australian women's magazine veteran Dee Nolan. It was lipstick and tights after that. Columnist Liz Jones arrived, and has endured, God bless her. But there is little about the magazine to recognise from its heyday. I will owe Nick forever for the breaks that he gave me. I'm so glad that I was there, and at that time. It was hard when we lost him in June 2016, at the age of only sixty-eight. Impossible to believe that it was vibrant him in that coffin, our friend and champion silenced at last. He was gone from the game but he would have made a comeback. It is the first rule of showbusiness.