The Neighbours factor: why teens prefer all things Australian: 'Sugar' magazine could be the biggest thing out of Oz since Jason and Kylie. Tamsin Blanchard reports

FIRST there was Neighbours and Home and Away; now there is Heartbreak High: Australian soaps are required after-school viewing for British teenagers. The teeny soaps (in Australia, Neighbours has always been seen as a children's rather than an adult show) are the new children's TV classics. The appeal of the Down Under soaps is straightforward. They have more good-looking teenagers than Brookside, EastEnders and Coronation Street put together. Australia knows how to entertain its teens.

Now a new magazine, Sugar, is tapping into the Australian way with teenagers. Launched last week, Sugar is modelled on the hugely successful Girlfriend, the fastest- growing magazine in Australia, read by 60 per cent of teenage girls. The formula is about to become the biggest export from Oz since Kylie and Jason.

'The difference between Girlfriend and Sugar is like the difference between Neighbours and Brookside,' says Kathryn Brown, the magazine's editor. 'In Australia it is all sunshine and bikinis, while here it is rain and jumpers.' Brown (at 30, the oldest member of the magazine's staff, the youngest being 22) comes direct from a five- year stint as editor of Girlfriend.

On both sides of the world, the priorities of teenage girls - or 'young women' as Sugar calls them - are revealed to be the same: boys, fashion, beauty, sex (if they are not having it, they are at least finding out all they need to know about it) and gossip. But the Aussie formula has been adapted to suit the British teenager. So gone are the blond, blue-eyed surfer hunks who leave a trail of swooning girls. Gone also are the constant references to model Nicky Taylor and her younger sister, Chrissie.

British girls might follow Neighbours avidly but, according to Ms Brown, they do not idolise plastic people, preferring less glamorous icons such as Bjork, Drew Barrymore and Winona Ryder. Keanu Reeves, Brad Pitt and Ethan Hawke are favourite pin-ups. (Reality Bites was not a film for Generation X but Generation T for teenage. Our teenagers are a sophisticated bunch.)

The Australian formula covers the same ground as its British competitors, Big, Just Seventeen and Looks, but as Ms Brown points out, 'it has a different tone and sense of humour. It's more grown-up'. And it is not exclusive - the theory goes that anyone can be part of the friendly Sugar gang.

The glossy, 98-page magazine looks sophisticated, despite its bright-and-busy design. There is the inevitable pin-up inside (Ryan Giggs) and the usual gossip about supermodels, but also real-life features - the sort of thing you might find in a teenage version of Marie Claire.

We showed the first issue of Sugar to Miako and Cecilia, two streetwise 13-year-olds from London. Cecilia had already heard of it and identified with the girl-next-door models on the cover. On average the two girls get between pounds 2 and pounds 5 pocket money a week, including money earned babysitting and helping with domestic chores, and spend it on clothes, make- up, accessories and magazines (they usually buy Smash Hits and Just Seventeen). Sugar was an instant hit with them.

'We like the real-life stories about teenagers,' said Cecilia. She liked the fashion, too: 'I'm going to shorten my rather long kilt now.' The picture of their 'desperate heart-throb' - Keanu Reeves - was the best they had seen, although they both hated the Ryan Giggs pin-up and the interview with the pop group East 17.

Above all, the magazine has a healthy sense of humour. A picture of Baywatch star Pamela Anderson with dimples on her thighs has the caption: 'Reassuring spot.'

Kathryn Brown aims to build her readers' self-esteem. 'Respect yourself and he will too,' says one article, which goes on to urge 'Get angry, girl]' and to give advice on 'how not to be a doormat'. Sugar even poses the question, can 'nice girls' get HIV?

Miako and Cecilia think they should be told.

(Photograph omitted)

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