Guilty Pleasure: James Brown on Grazia

'I steal "Grazia" when my wife's not looking'
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The Independent Online

People are always asking me which magazines I like. Strangely, the one I feel most comfortable talking about is Grazia. I like the fact that it surprises them. "It's for women, isn't it?" they always ask. Yes, that's true, but it is put together in a way that makes it very accessible to whoever's reading it. You get dragged in regardless of the content.

It takes a good magazine to get my attention because I find it very hard to read one without thinking about the way it's been put together. With Grazia, I always know I'm going to enjoy something about picking it up, even if it's just the design, which is excellent. So in this case, I actually enjoy it because of the way it is put together.

I've only ever bought two copies of it - the first one, and this week's. But I read it most weeks. My wife buys it, so I guess I'm a passive reader. I steal it when she's not looking, or I keep an eye on where it is in the house.

Before Loaded opened the door for a lot of men's magazines, there was a culture of men passively reading their girlfriends' Marie Claire and Cosmo. They did it for the tick-box questionnaires about relationships and the sex columns, but most of all they read them because there weren't any magazines that reflected what men were really like.

With Grazia, you actually get something that reflects the way people are. A great magazine understands that all its readers can't simply be pigeonholed as one "type" and the editorial is tailored accordingly to make it inclusive. Some media struggle with the idea that you can be intelligent but like disposable puerile things, or that you can be skint but enjoy quality things. It doesn't fit the way advertisers want magazines to be.

In Grazia, you get this working combination of supermarket and upmarket. It's the greatest card trick of modern publishing because the format, the design and the paper make you feel as if you're holding something of substance that reflects well on you. Then you get among its celebrity coverage and it's not hugely different from the other supermarket tabloid mags.

Where it differs is in the fashion and the layout; the superb use of white backgrounds, yellow boxes, cut-outs. The fashion is easy to get into, and in people such as Paula Reed and Laura Craik you get the feeling they know what they're on about.

The device they use for the top 10 news stories and top 10 TV programmes, and also the wonky grid for the horoscope, are very eye-catching. Without getting too pretentious about it, this is magazine layout Frank Gehry style. The matt paper makes it feel like a very expensive quality Sunday supplement.

I like the back page a lot. It's a competition to win a designer handbag accompanied by lots of beauty products; you enter it by premium-rate phone line, and the profit goes to charity. Obviously, I don't want a bloody big leather handbag, but as editorial it works for everyone. The prizes look great so advertisers are happy; the charity benefits and the magazine gets a great interactive page for its readers.

Their bigger true-life and relationship features are only 800 words long, but they're packaged so that you think you've read something longer.

The covers aren't as sophisticated as the inside but I guess they need to look glossy, predictable and identifiable to compete on the newsstand. They seem to be a rotation of Kate, Angelina, Sienna and Jennifer, all emblazoned with the words "celebrity love crisis", which is a name I'm appropriating for a club night or a band I haven't invented yet.

Is it a guilty pleasure? I guess so. At the end of the day, it's a women's magazine I spend 30 minutes flicking through, but it's good that there's something out there that can make me feel quite so passionate and appreciative.