Everything OK? Not if you're caught in the crossfire of the celebrity mag war - Media - News - The Independent

Everything OK? Not if you're caught in the crossfire of the celebrity mag war

Behind last week's humiliation of Grant Bovey and Anthea Turner lies one of the press's most intense rivalries

Far be it from ordinary mortals to question why, if it is OK to sell media rights to your nuptials to the highest bidder, saying hello to a bit of product endorsement at the same time is beyond the pale.

Far be it from ordinary mortals to question why, if it is OK to sell media rights to your nuptials to the highest bidder, saying hello to a bit of product endorsement at the same time is beyond the pale.

But celebrity couple Anthea Turner and Grant Bovey certainly find both situations taxing. Last weekend they happily agreed to the presence of minders, security, and distinctly uncelebratory restrictions on guests for their wedding reception - all for a deal, said to be worth £300,000, giving OK! magazine exclusive rights to the event's coverage. But just days later, after OK! released a single photograph for the rest of the media to use, the sweet deal turned sour. The picture showed the newly-weds joyously tucking into a new chocolate confection from Cadbury's and was accompanied by a caption, which OK! insisted was used, plugging both the magazine and the bar. Turner said she was so "traumatised" by its release she spent hours on her honeymoon in South Africa in tears.

And so the newly-weds were hit by the hand that fed them. Sympathy might not be running at an all-time high for Turner and Bovey. Yet the couple might, with some justification, consider themselves not only caught in a commercial crush between Cadbury's and OK! to which they hadn't consented, but also victims of collateral damage in the pro- tracted war between the UK's two big celebrity magazines.

As OK! was distributing its choc shot, so Hello!'s latest edition was reaching the newsstands, complete with the front-page teaser: "Anthea Turner's wedding and the story behind the romance with Grant Bovey". The doyen of celebrity titles had pulled together four pages of coverage, including a couple of cheeky snatched shots of "a radiant Anthea on her..." - well, not quite her Big Day, but it was the day the couple quietly did the deed at the register office before the big party for which OK! had paid handsomely.

The 12-year-old title has now to work hard to maintain its circulation lead since the look-alike OK!, launched in 1993, went head to head with Hello! and turned weekly four years ago. Its rival crowed loudly when, earlier this year, its audited six-monthly circulation figures showed sales 37.7 per cent up year-on-year to 551,901 copies, overtaking Hello!, which at 495,349 suffered a 3 per cent fall.

The massive rise for OK! could be largely attributed to another all-rights wedding deal, this time with David Beckham and Victoria "Posh Spice" Adams at a reported cost of £1m. That edition sold a whopping 1.6 million copies. As the first editor of OK!, and the man who took it weekly, Richard Barber, says: " OK! has really upped the ante. It is blazing a very aggressive trail indeed."

Barber, now freelance and a regular contributor to Hello!, thinks of OK!, with its brash, youthful approach and concentration on soap, sport and pop stars, as ITV; Hello!, famed for its icky-sweet "lovely home" spreads on aristos, as BBC.

The latest batch of circulation figures show Hello! back winning the sales war (458,663 to OK!'s 455,162), but you can barely put a diaphanous wedding veil between them - and Hello! has at least partially taken on board the changing tastes of those who devour celebrity coverage. Turner had placed herself in mid-battlefield between the two titles. The anodyne TV presenter, who marred her goodie-goodie image when she ran off with the married Bovey two years ago, has flitted between deals with both titles.

Still, Hello! thought it had secured the wedding. Late last year Turner was talking to Hello! about her wedding plans - in public, to its readership, and in private, to Hello!'s fixers, about rights to the event. Hello! editor Maggie Koumi thought the two parties had reached an agreement but, as she says, "things turned around". Straight into the arms of OK!.

It's not unusual for celebrities to change their minds. Four years ago when Barber edited OK! he believed he was close to clinching a deal, at what now seems a paltry £100,000, for Paul and Sheryl Gascoigne's wedding. In the end Hello! snatched it - and for less. Barber says: "Sheryl's hairdresser thought Hello! was posher. In the end it's not always down to money. It's down to petty snobbery. Sheryl chose to listen to her hairdresser."

However, money is very seductive and OK! publishers Northern & Shell, also responsible for a host of top-shelf titles such as Asian Babes and Big Ones, has deep pockets. It has poached many a former Hello! regular.

Sally Cartwright, publishing director of Hello!, won't talk money matters, aside from agreeing that "sometimes money changes hands" and "all the sums you read about are exaggerated". Sometimes, indeed, it is other inducements, that swing a deal. ("We don't want to get anybody in trouble with the Inland Revenue," she comments.)

Above all though it is trust, insists Cartwright, that is the single biggest element in determining Hello!'s successes. Contracts for exclusives, she says, are detailed and can take months to draw up. "We don't stitch people up, we do exactly what we say we are going to do."

Sharon Ring, the second editor of OK! and a woman with 18 years' Fleet Street experience behind her, thinks Hello!, has been a bit too well-mannered in the past - which is why at times OK! has wiped the floor with it.

The key to a good exclusive, she explains, is spotting the tell-tale line in an interview where the sound wedding bells can be heard in the distance. "From spotting that story you put in a call to the agent, sometimes send flowers to the people concerned, and that's where it all starts. It's an all-consuming thing then. You can't take your eye off the ball. But sometimes being first, and assiduously wooing someone, is a big part of their decision. They think 'that's nice, they really care'."

And of course, money talks.

Ring, now editor of travel title Escape Routes, employed traditional tabloid tactics for the exclusives she signed up - and kept exclusive - at OK! "You need manpower. You have to make sure entrances and exits are covered. Journalists are incredibly resourceful," she says.

"You have to make sure that if people are going somewhere in a car, the windows are blacked out."

And, yes, she adds, guests at weddings have to be told not to bring cameras.

Hello!'s Cartwright agrees with this one: "You're making a substantial investment in an exclusive and you don't want a guest messing up the arrangement by selling a picture to a national newspaper for £500." Or a rival sneaking in, she might have added. When Hello! bought Gloria Hunniford's wedding for £180,000, an OK! photographer managed to evade security and beat Hello! to the pictures.

Late last week Martin Townsend, third and current OK! editor, was not wanting to talk about the dynamics between the two magazines, and was only saying he wants to draw a line under the whole Bovey-Turner-Cadbury's affair.

Sharon Ring, though, thinks the chocolate débâcle can only have a positive effect on the magazine. "People up and down the country are talking about it," she says.

As for Anthea Turner, she just made a professional slip-up, Ring reckons.

"If I'd made a deal saying one picture of my wedding could be released to the nationals I'd have made sure I had approval of the picture first. She's just not crossed her t's and dotted her i's."

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