LAUNCHED 10 years ago by its Spanish proprietor, Hello!, the British version of Hola!, plugged a huge gap in the market that few realised existed. A strange hybrid of Tatler and TV Times, it showed the rich and famous as they had never been seen before.

Sharon Ring, editor of its young rival OK!, pays tribute: ''Everybody thought that it wouldn't be successful here, but it was. People were getting very cheesed off with British newspapers and, anyway, being photographed by John Swannell or Terry O'Neill was much more appealing than a headshot in grimy black and white newsprint.''

More and more celebrities flocked to Hello!, eager to tell their stories in this flattering format. Why risk ridicule in the increasingly satirical Tatler when the Marquesa's mob would give full picture and copy approval? And the cheques were nice. The publicity-shy Earl Spencer is reputed to have trousered pounds 350,000 for happy snaps of him and his lovely wife. Hello!'s popularity with the rich and famous has led to the virtual privatisation of commodities that had once been in public ownership.

The public lap it up just the same. Some 530,000 people buy it, but having shelled out their pounds 1.35 they are lucky to get a sniff of the thing because a minimum of four other people will have nicked it by then - several hundred people if you happen to be a hairdresser.

Like excitable goldfish, Hello!'s journalists note with happy surprise that various C-list celebrities have "a new man in their lives". And it's always the same people. You begin to wonder if the Grimaldis, the Spencers and Jane Seymour are on an annual retainer.

Once upon a time, this sort of media massage was reserved for very famous people indeed. You know: Jackie Onassis, Margot Fonteyn, Aly Khan. Hello!, with dozens of editorial pages to fill, widened its net to include muscle- bound, stone-washed young men from daytime soap operas swanning around a kidney-shaped pool with a large photogenic dog. Britt Ekland, Joan Collins - anybody.

Solid gold junk. And such large helpings. You'd have trouble showing a polite interest in 27 pages of your own sister's wedding, yet Hello! routinely runs roll after roll of virtually identical snaps. A morning suit on the cover always seems to jack up the circulation, but the magazine's wholesome obsession with brides and grooms is very definitely a triumph of hope over experience.

This week's tenth anniversary issue looks back at the weddings of Viscount Althorp, Mandy Smith and Bill Wyman, Elizabeth Taylor and Raine Spencer, to name but a few of the short-lived alliances it has celebrated. And you'd think by now that the "curse" would make people think twice about inviting the magazine into their lovely homes.

But the money does help. Paul Gascoigne's breathtakingly vulgar brocade- fest is widely alleged to have set them back pounds 100,000. Worth every penny. The 694,000 sale topped the infamous shots of Andy and Fergie ''sharing some intimate family moments'' (changing nappies).

Until the funeral of Princess Diana (1.2m copies), Gazza and Shezza at the altar was the bestselling cover to date. For everyday use, though, you couldn't beat the Diana, whose perennial loveliness caused mags to just walk off the shelves - 61 times. Hello! is now without its fall- back cover and publishing director Sally Cartwright is determined to use her posthumous image sparingly: "It would be exploitative."

But a lot of copies are impulse purchases and the remaining royals are not an automatic draw. OK!'s Ring notes rather astutely that although the tenth anniversary edition of Hello! proudly lists its best-selling covers ''they don't tell you the ones that bombed. The ones with the Euro- Royals that no-one except the proprietor is interested in."

Hello!'s outdated fascination with the Almanach de Gotha has allowed OK! to make significant strides in the market. It's more British, less of a house magazine for the continental aristocracy, but like Hello! it has deep pockets and nice manners and it beats the tabloids at their own game.

"The tabloids are green with envy at the stories we get,'' insists Ring. Richard Barber, former editor of OK!, explains the attraction: ''They go to Hello! or OK! because they know they're not going to be mucked about."

Often the papers have to cover the stories at second hand. Should the Duchess of York at some future date 'share' with Hello! her elopement with Colin Stagg, the newspapers would be forced to report the fact and buy the pictures. The outrageous sums paid can be partly recouped in syndication rights if a magazine buys out the photographer.

Barber remembers a recent gamble: ''OK! spent a rumoured $2m for Michael Jackson's first baby pictures but they made half their money back - and they go on selling."

If they cannot outbid the opposition the tabloids are obliged to put a fresh spin on events. Max Clifford thinks that this explains this week's handling of the Dent-Brocklehurst wedding (which OK! has ring-fenced). "The couple had been bought up so the papers think 'We'll have some fun here.'" A ploy which resulted in the bride and groom coming a poor second to Liz Hurley's rhinestone drawers. They were all over the tabloids, but OK! has taken the unusual step of focusing on Mr and Mrs Dent-Brocklehurst and Hurley's knickers ended up firmly on the spike: ''We've simply used a nice shot of her where they're not showing,'' says Ring demurely.

This sounds like an editorial decision made on taste grounds but is more likely a veto by the Dent-Brocklehursts who are unlikely to have waived picture approval. This craven attitude to celebrity muscle is the chief criticism levelled at Hello! and OK!.

In fact, Hello!'s very blandness can lull the celeb into stitching themselves up far more comprehensively than the journalist ever could. As one former Hello! writer says: ''It's a trust thing. People are much more open with you in the end because they actually feel safe."

The whole copy approval question is not peculiar to the Eurotrash of Hello!. More and more American glossies are pandering to their interview subjects. They need the big names and faces on the cover and will do any dirty deal to secure them. Hello! did not invent copy approval. Clifford seldom settles for anything less. "I was doing that long before Hello! magazine started up. As a PR, you want as much control as possible," he says.

Clifford is a big fan professionally: ''It's a PR person's dream. Even if you're looking after the devil incarnate they come across as Mother Teresa." But when pressed, Clifford reveals that he doesn't find it a particularly useful tool in news management. "It doesn't have any credibility. The only people who believe Hello! are totally out of touch with reality. If I really want to make a point or get something across that is going to help build a career or stop a damaging innuendo, Hello! magazine wouldn't work."

Clifford himself would not allow them into his lovely home. ''No, I don't want any of that. My home is my home. If that whatshisname from Through the Keyhole came in here I would personally break his neck."

So far, Clifford hasn't done Hello!, a distinction he shares with Ian Hislop, who must surely lead the field as The Man Most Unlikely To? Not if Sally Cartwright has her way: ''Ooohh I have hopes of Ian Hislop one day..."


OK, which of the following have been featured in 'Hello!'?

Dennis Hopper

Shane McGowan

David Hockney

Gore Vidal

Mother Teresa

Salman Rushdie

The Dalai Lama

Stephen Fry

Madeleine Albright

'Mad' Frankie Fraser

Vanessa Redgrave

Ken Livingstone

Lord St John of Fawsley

Rita Hayworth

Cardinal Hume

The following have: Dennis Hopper, David Hockney, Mother Teresa, Dalai Lama, Madeleine Albright, Vanessa Redgrave, Lord St John of Fawsley, Cardinal Hume

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