Media: A charmer shows his claws

The Tatler debacle has revealed a tough side to Nicholas Coleridge.
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The Independent Culture
NICHOLAS COLERIDGE, MD of Conde Nast, this week stirred up the braying classes by sacking Jane Procter, editor of Tatler, the glossy society magazine.

Her leadership had driven away so many staff that Coleridge, whose style is far from confrontational, finally showed her the door last week, after a walkout by staff members with close links to the Newhouse family (owners of Conde Nast).

Harriet Mays Powell, the fashion director, Mary Eustace, senior fashion editor and other staff who walked out have all now returned, Coleridge says. "I'm a realist," he explains of Ms Procter's sacking. "I would have preferred the situation with Jane not to have come to this, but it did."

Coleridge heads the UK division of Conde Nast Publications, which also gives us Vogue, GQ, Vanity Fair and Conde Nast Traveller. Somehow he has time to write successful thrillers, tour the cocktail party circuit, appear on TV shows and spend time with his wife and children.

The magazines, he says, are "like your own children" - and he should know, having eight of the former and four of the latter.

These have been bumpy months for this 42-year-old product of Eton and Cambridge, and veteran of Harpers & Queen, among others.

Though the British Conde Nast stable as a whole is healthy, with annual profits, insiders say, of around pounds 14m, some titles are facing tricky times. GQ has a new editor, Dylan Jones, who is charged with taking it upmarket after James Brown's eventful stint at the helm. And GQ Active, after disappointing monthly figures, has gone quarterly.

The Tatler imbroglio is the latest test of what most who know him say is one of Coleridge's greatest assets: the ability to make inspirational appointments. "We're looking at a whole host of candidates right now but I think it would be impolitic of me to tell you who they were," he says.

Changes at Tatler are inevitable after Procter's departure, but Coleridge says he isn't looking for fundamental changes in the product, which saw circulation climb from 30,000 to 90,000 during her tenure. "It's important to have a bit of a buzz about it. The aim with Tatler is to keep it profitable and make it admired, and Jane Procter did that."

Coleridge could have been born in Vogue House. His father was a director of Lloyd's of London and his Notting Hill house looks like a shoot for World of Interiors. He met Georgia Metcalfe when she was doing work experience on Tatler and, on finding out that she'd left after two days, tracked her down to India. They married in 1989 and now have three sons and a daughter.

He is genuinely admired and liked by his staff, who seem to have nothing negative to say about him. "He's an immensely hard worker, incredibly persuasive; and his motivation is people. He really does love what he's doing," says the editor of one Conde Nast publication.

"It sounds a sycophantic thing to say, but he's incredibly supportive," says Dylan Jones. One former CN editor says Coleridge gets directly involved in editing only "when things are going really badly".

Even Angus MacKinnon, who was sacked as editor of GQ in 1997 to make way for James Brown, has only praise for him. "He was always accessible and never imposed himself on the titles. We just had a genuine difference of opinion, but even after he fired me, which he was very uncomfortable doing, he sent me a long handwritten note thanking me for not being difficult about it."

"He's genuinely enthusiastic about life, but I suspect that underneath he may be something of a cold fish," says one magazine insider.

The only sign of potential trouble lies above Coleridge. Though he insists he has an "excellent" relationship with Jonathan Newhouse, cousin of Conde Nast's chairman Si, and head of the group's international division, a senior CN executive says: "The problem is, Nicholas is smarter than Jonathan, and Jonathan just isn't a confident, sociable, brilliant creature. You can't help but wonder what will happen in five years' time."