That's really how I got into magazines - because I was jobless. Somebody told me that the editor of a magazine called Over 21 needed a secretary. While I was there I was able to write little bits, but this was a point at which the NUJ was really powerful, and as a secretary, and not a member of the NUJ, I was in the end actually banned from writing for the magazine. I started to try and get some freelance bits of writing. One of the things I'd learned from being the editor's secretary was how to pitch ideas to people. I did a piece for Tina Brown, who was then editing Tatler. Miles Chapman, who now works on ES Magazine, was doing the social pages for her, and also freelanced for Over 21, and he told me I should write to Tina. So I wrote to her with an idea of doing a piece - this was about 17 years ago, by the way - about how Notting Hill Gate was becoming trendy. She commissioned it on spec, and I did it, and she thought it was very good. Miles then needed an assistant on his pages, so when that job came up they offered it to me.
So that got me to Tatler, where I stayed for five years, moving up the masthead - firstly under Tina, and then under Libby Purves, for a very short amount of time. Then Mark Boxer came to edit the magazine, and for a time that looked as if it might be the end for me, because to start with we didn't really get on very well. But then I had a lucky break. I was in a features meeting, and they wanted to do a piece on bounders. There was a man around who fitted this description called Luis Basualdo, and they sent me off on a date with him. Mark loved the piece: it was, in a way, "the piece that changed my life". Mark was the first person who made me think that I could edit a magazine, and I got much more confident, and became features editor there.
In 1987, I went to the Sunday Telegraph, to be the woman's page editor; James McManus headhunted me. Peregrine Worsthorne was editing the paper, and everyone was telling him the Sunday Telegraph had to get new women readers, so he just said to James: "OK, get somebody in".
Then the Telegraph, which had just moved to the Isle of Dogs, moved the Sunday Telegraph magazine to Saturday, to compete with the launch of the Independent's Saturday magazine. But they felt they couldn't just have nothing on a Sunday, so they wanted to have a magazine for that day - it was called 7 Days - and appointed their then news editor, Graham Paterson, to edit it, with me as deputy. I loved working with him, but it was only for three months, because then I was offered the job of features editor on Vogue, a job I couldn't resist.
So I came back to magazines, and did that for two years. Then Nicholas Coleridge came to the company as editorial director, and offered me the job of editing GQ, which had been launched a year before and wasn't really moving in the way they wanted it to. The magazine did really well, and kept a really good lead on everything after the launch of Esquire. Then I was offered the job of editing Vogue, when Liz Tilberis left, in 1992.
It's a great moment now for me on Vogue, because of our new ABC figure of over 200,000. When I worked on Vogue under Liz Tilberis, there was a feeling that it would never sell much more than it was selling - that it had peaked. A lot of people really did think that we wouldn't be able to sell more than 200,000, and so it's really exciting to feel that I've done that. It's a good magazine, with a good team of people, and I want to carry on editing it for a while yet" n
Alexandra Shulman was talking to Scott HughesReuse content