CV; EKOW ESHUN Editor, Arena
Monday 12 January 1998
In 1987, I went to the LSE to study politics and history, and in my first term I started writing for the LSE student newspaper. Also, through some friends of mine, I began working for Kiss, which was then a pirate radio station. Kiss wanted to start a magazine programme, and my friends and I started something called The Word, interviewing people whose music was being played on the station.
We did that for a year, and it was a pivotal thing for me. Kiss at that time was an amazing place, with about 30 of the best DJs in London - and among them were Jazzie B and Soul II Soul. The following summer, Soul II Soul took off, and this sense of what we were doing in London suddenly turning into a global phenomenon was very empowering. I realised then that if you had self-belief, and felt what you had to say connected with other people, there was really nothing to stop you actually doing that.
At the end of 1988, Kiss closed down to apply for a legal licence, and I carried on being a student. Shortly after that, I phoned up The Face, which I'd always been a fan of, and offered them some ideas. The first thing I sold to them was a 100-word piece in the Hype section, about the return of Kickers, which nobody had really noticed before. And after that, during my second and third year at college, I started to write for The Face regularly, and, later, for Elle as well. I was writing mainly about pop culture, music and fashion, because those were the things that made up my life.
When I graduated, in 1990, I went freelance, carrying on writing for The Face and Elle. And, because I'd got some experience from Kiss, I started doing stuff for Radio 5, when it first started, as well as for Kaleidoscope on Radio 4, and for World Service radio. I started repackaging and reselling a lot of my material across different media: I'd go and interview people for The Face, doing it on professional recording equipment I'd got from the BBC, and I'd then do a package for some BBC programme based on the same thing.
Then Toni Rodgers, who I'd been working for at Elle, became editor of Just Seventeen, and I was acting features editor on that for a year - my first proper staff job. I was supposed to be there for just a couple of months, but I liked it and I stayed. It was a radically different experience for me: I realised that it's very important as a writer or editor on that kind of magazine to connect with the emotions and desires of your readers - it's not just about writing what you will. You'd get sacks of mail every day - the readers really cared about what was in the magazine - so it was a very rewarding thing to do.
While I was there, I was also still working for The Face, so every now and then I'd disappear off to, say, New York for a week to do a story for them. Once, I went to Iceland to interview Bjork for the cover story. And I was still doing stuff for Radio 4 - it was a ridiculously busy time. Then, in late 1993, I got a staff writer's job at The Face, eventually becoming assistant editor. It was very fulfilling, and real fun: everything I did, read, listened to, and wore, and everywhere I went, I put into the magazine.
At the end of 1996, when I was 28, the editor of Arena suddenly left the job. I applied for it, and got it. And so began the strangest period of my life, because suddenly I had this thing that was properly mine - before that I'd just been doing things that were part of something else. For the first few months it was really intense, because I was changing staff, and changing the direction and look of the magazine. I wanted it to speak more accurately of how men lived in the late Nineties.
But, after about six months, I began to relax in the job, and the magazine began to have it own pace and own life. We've got editions planned out for the first six months of 1998, so now I can see what we're doing. Right now, I'm having a lot of fun. I'm editing a magazine which I genuinely believe in, and I've just started contributing to The Late Review, which is a programme I've always watched and liked. It's the best thing in the world to be asked your opinion and be allowed to say what you think.
Interview by Scott Hughes
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