Celebrities lose their minds, too

A new magazine published by a former Penthouse editor aims to use the travails of the famous to bring mental health issues into the mainstream. James Morrison reports
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The Independent Online

Britney Spears innocently clasps her hands behind her back in a cover shot for what appears to be the latest arrival on the celebrity maga-zine shelf - except that this is a title that delivers a diet of nervous breakdown, schizophrenia and anxiety.

Britney Spears innocently clasps her hands behind her back in a cover shot for what appears to be the latest arrival on the celebrity maga-zine shelf - except that this is a title that delivers a diet of nervous breakdown, schizophrenia and anxiety.

When it launches next month, There There magazine will offer a completely new approach to addressing the psychological problems suffered by one in five of the population at some point in our lives.

The magazine - aimed squarely at consumers rather than medical practitioners - aims to haul a notoriously "difficult" subject out of the medical journals and into the mainstream with the help of that ubiquitous latter-day weapon: celebrity.

The free quarterly title will be distributed exclusively through a nationwide network of 6,000 GPs' surgeries. It will address issues that affect many of us, such as anxiety and depression, as well as more complex conditions like schizophrenia, sugaring the pill by illustrating its articles not with the usual earnest case studies, but by analysing the well-publicised "breakdowns" of stars such as Spears.

There There is the brainchild of Jonathan Richards, a one-time group managing editor of Richard Desmond's Northern & Shell magazine empire. A self-proclaimed maverick with an eye for popular trends, Richards boasts an extraordinarily eclectic CV: in addition to sharing founding credits on OK!, he has edited Penthouse and launched a string of ground-breaking titles, among them the gay lifestyle monthly Attitude and, more controversially, For Women, the top-shelf magazine that became the first British title to feature full-frontal male nudes.

Given this colourful odyssey, it is tempting to view There There as little more than Richards's latest wheeze. Yet a chat with the personable, faintly hippie-ish 41-year-old suggests otherwise. After his long spell at Northern & Shell, he spent a while in contract publishing, but his career took an unforeseen turn in the late Nineties when a combination of "the mid-thirties itch" and the transformative effect that intensive therapy had had on a close friend persuaded him to take time out to train as a counsellor.

As he did after his earlier spell as a staff editor at Northern & Shell, Richards has put this experience to good use in his freelance work. One look at There There confirms that it is far from being a half-baked venture. Its glossy website, theretheremedia.com, showcases a series of impressive dummy covers for issue one, featuring icons ranging from Marilyn Monroe to Sex and the City's Kim Cattrall. The front that Richards has settled on, a riot of pastel pinks and blues, bears a familiar publicity still of Britney that could almost be taken from J17 or Heat - until, that is, one reads the accompanying strapline: "Britney returns - but is she really OK?"

This gives you only a taste of the magazine's sassy but sensitive content. Features about power yoga and anger management - the latter illustrated by a page-sized cut-out of the Hulk from the recent Ang Lee film - sit comfortably alongside "think pieces" by the eminent psychoanalyst Eric Rayner and Dilys Daws, a consultant child psychotherapist at London's Tavistock Clinic. To Richards's mind, the best article is by "a guy from Manchester" who describes how he has come to terms with depression.

Richards is coy about the cost of the launch ("it's a couple of decent Range Rovers") and the identity of his backers ("a couple of individuals who were happy to 'sleep'"). He is more forthcoming about his decision to distribute the magazine through surgeries, taken partly because of the prohibitive cost of reserving shelf-space in newsagents (some chains charge up to £15,000 to take new magazines for an initial three-month trial run), and the fact that, to many - WH Smith included - stocking free titles is anathema. He concedes there were also other reasons - not least his feeling that, once businesses wise up to the potential of the captive market of the waiting-room, There There will have no trouble attracting advertisers. It is clearly aimed at companies with deep pockets: a half-page ad costs £2,700, while a full page is £5,100.

"The first print run is 80,000 and there's a potential audience of 38 million," Richards says. "We had to sell our integrity to our distributors, but we managed to, and now it's national, absolutely national. We are looking for ethically aware companies to advertise - and we are offering them 10 to 15 readers per copy, in a market they don't often get to."

All this talk of advertisers starts to make There There sound like any other commercial venture. Yet, when he outlines his long-term aims for the magazine, Richards is insistent that it is about using the Trojan horse of celebrity to promote genuine understanding of complex issues relevant to us all.

"One in five people suffer from a mental health problem, and it costs £33bn a year in terms of antidepressants, doctors' time and impact on the country's productivity, yet, statistically, people would rather confess to alcoholism than having a mental health problem," he almost shouts. "There's still this under-the-carpet attitude towards it. Having done the dreaded focus group thing with people, I know the sort of thing they are usually still confronted by: badly Xeroxed pamphlets, and the like."

Richards sees There There as having the potential to occupy a similarly "socially aware" niche as The Big Issue. In time, he hopes that, rather than having to rely on archive celebrity pictures and quotes, he will be able to persuade some big names to speak to it directly. To this end, he is already "talking to PR companies to sell them the idea of being involved".

He has in mind the interview George Michael famously gave The Big Issue in 1996, in which he broke his lengthy media silence, and in so doing he set a precedent that numerous stars, from David Beckham to Arnold Schwarzenegger, followed. Richards openly admits his dream front cover would feature a banner announcing a Robbie Williams exclusive.

On paper, Richards's sensational back catalogue makes him seem an unlikely born-again social crusader. Yet he professes to be able to see a direct link between the likes of Attitude, For Women and There There. They have all emanated, he says, from an awareness of the "zeitgeist".

"My first proper engagement in journalism was on a bodybuilding magazine, Body Power. That really was a niche market, but it tapped into the zeitgeist of the time," he says. "In the early 1990s, nude pictures of men were zeitgeist, in the mid-1990s the pink pound was zeitgeist. Today, people work very hard and many suffer from stress and anxiety. I see There There as being about quality of life and reflecting the zeitgeist of today."