Tatler sits somewhere between House and Gardens and Vogue. Geographically at least:
its offices occupy the third floor of Condénast’s headquarters in London, sandwiched
between the other titles in the magazine publisher’s stable. Geordie Greig, editor since
1999, occupies a corner office decorated with prints of former covers. In a pink checked
shirt open at the collar he surveys his overwhelmingly female staff. The walls of the offi ce
are glass but the ceiling certainly is not: for, as, Greig claims, he “employs 98% women.”
The third floor location and the tough looking doormen employed by Condénast are
perhaps there for a reason, Greig’s magazine being one that everyone seems to have a
hold on. although younger readers have a tendency to elide the definite article that their
parents would have prefaced it with, The Tatler is nevertheless unique, particularly
following the rebranding of Harpers and Queen. “We’ll be the only social magazine left in
Britain. Hoorah,” quips Greig. But what exactly is a social magazine, what is the formula that
has kept Tatler going since its foundation in 1709? “It’s a luxury. Like a fabulous box
of chocolates. deeply desirable, enjoyable. decadent and sometimes a little wicked.” Flicking through the current issue reveals an interview with Paris Hilton in which the hotel
heiress enlightens the reader with her preferred conversation topics with her manicurist, a
short story by the improbably named evgenia Citkowitz about a sixth former at the kind of
girls’ school whose leavers ball photos appear in Bystander, and numerous glossy ads.
advertising is clearly important: “the big brands love Tatler because it’s very english, it’s got
a sense of humour, a very rich readership.” Very rich indeed: there are a mere 86,000 of
them, but in a year they spend a total of £1.1 billion on travel alone. as a magazine Tatler
chronicles society, and Greig is insistent on having writers who “have the inside
track;” hence a list of contributors encompassing both Parker-Bowles children and Lord
Freddie Windsor. But how valid is the notion of society in today’s england of labour
politicians and Pete and Jordan’s OK nuptials? Greig is adamant that “every country has a
society.” He points out that society is, and always has been, accepting of new talent and
(gasp) new money. “There’s no stigma to making money: people like success. The
establishment is always made up of those who do well, who reach up.” as anyone who
has seen Madonna’s current tweed phase will no doubt agree, these people merge. “Who
would have thought rock stars, symbols of rebellion, would be shooting pheasants on
country estates?” Our interview takes place during London Fashion week, and Greig uses the example of the
guest list at donatella Versace’s party to illustrate this new trend: “there were people
from grand houses, people from rock, people from fashion, from the financial industry.” and
do they all get on? “I think people are all rather intrigued by each other.” But nevertheless
Tatler is not just for insiders. “It’s read by probably the widest and most influential circle
of readers it’s possible to have. From Tony Blair’s spin doctors to Saatchis, to fifteen year
olds at schools all over the country.” Certainly not all of these could be classed as
members of capitalised London Society. Even in Oxford it is not only those who can spot
their school friends in the back pages who read the magazine. Greig agrees that there can
be an element of voyeurism involved: in peeking into a different social milieu, a different
world. But the balance has to be kept right. “The insider should feel it’s right and that they’re
more informed, and the outsider should find it interesting and fascinating, and aspire to
know more about that kind of life.” However, Greig emphasises that his magazine is not
totally serious: “Humour is very important for Tatler. I think we need to be mischievous,
ironic, to sometimes bite the hand that feeds us.” It is reassuring to hear that articles
such as ‘Terror on the King’s road: Why Chelsea is no longer safe’ (which appeared, with
unfortunate irony, shortly before the July 7th underground bombings) are not conceived with
a deadly serious public service agenda. But do some people miss the joke? “If they do
they probably don’t read us again,” laughs Greig. “I think most people who enjoy Tatler
enjoy the sense of having fun, including taking the piss sometimes.”But who is this man who claims to “come in every morning thrilled to be here
because there are exciting things to be done?” now in his mid forties,he has worked in
journalism since leaving university at Oxford, although he claims: “I always used
to be rather nervous about calling myself a journalist.” After Eton he read english at St.
Peter’s, but was not involved with the student press. “I had a horrid time doing
journalism at Oxford. When I wrote one piece for the Isis, the editor totally rewrote it,
made up quotes and I had to write a letter of apology. I thought: shit, I’m not going
to do this.” But do it he did, eschewing a job in banking to take up an offer
at a newspaper in deptford. except it turned out not to be an offer: someone at the South
east London and Kentish Mercury merely thought it would be amusing to have someone
whose CV read ‘eton, Oxford, deptford.’ They did, however, employ him as a crime reporter.
Was working in one of London’s poorest boroughs a culture shock? “You have to be
genuine. Normal rules of life: be yourself. People don’t give a monkey’s as long as you are
yourself and you’re comfortable in your own skin.” After two years he moved to the Sunday
Times, who sent him to america. Greig claims: “I loved new York. It was a
real life changer.” He covered “all the fun, froth and trivia,” as well as more serious
events like the Waco shootings. After five years he returned to London as the Sunday
Times’ Literary editor, a position he held for a further five years. What about the job at
Tatler? “I was rung up out of the blue by Nicholas Coleridge, who is the managing director
of Condénast. He said: “Please don’t put the phone down: this is probably the maddest call
you’ve ever had, but would you consider being editor of Tatler?” He admits he had no
idea it was coming at the time, but he eagerly accepted. “Tatler is one of the oldest, most
distinguished magazines, with a pedigree going back almost three hundred years, and it’s
had some great editors who made a difference in journalism.”He mentions how the magazine “punches above it’s weight: we’re a small circulation that
tries to have a big impact. Tatler is an authority on social life.” Certainly the rest of
the media listens. Greig recalls the time “we declared the dinner party was dead. There
were headlines in Korea, Canada, people rang us up.” On another occasion there were
“seven TV stations camped outside (his) offi ce” following an interview with Prince Andrew.
The transition from a ‘gritty, warty newspaper’ to a glossy magazine with a two month lead
in period was a challenging one. “My first three months were quite tense. I thought it was
going to be the same as newspapers, whereas it‘s very different.” How so? “It is less
adrenalin led. You haven’t got that intense sense of ‘we’re going off the press in thirty
minutes.’ Moreover the subject matter is different. at the start, Greig “didn’t know anything
about fashion. [He] thought Pucci was a misspelling of Gucci.” However it was not just the
switch to magazine journalism and the more female environment that the new editor had to
deal with. He also had his own agenda. “I wanted to make it more journalistic and
I wanted to go back to its roots, bringing in great writers, a sense of style.” Under Greig’s
command Tatler has featured work by Tom Wolfe, Kazuo Ishiguro, VS naipaul, William Boyd
and Seamus Heaney. “I have tried to make it more intelligent. I think our readers can take
great writing.” Great writing it is, and in a glamorous showcase. Tatler is the kind of place
where the staff can borrow clothes from the heaps of couture in the fashion department if
they need something smarter for the evening. Aspiration shows on its shiny pages, but does it shine brightly enough in today’s
increasingly homogenized world, where everyone is middle class? I ask Greig if it is still
cool to be posh. He considers for a minute and replies: “It’s never cool simply to be posh,
but it’s fine to be yourself. Whether you’re posh or Polish or from Pittsburgh doesn’t really
matter.”ARCHIVE: 4th week MT 2005