James Brown: This Jack is no lad

He's reinventing the men's magazine (again). James Brown on his search for a new team and a new perspective
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The Independent Online

Sitting in that attic office, listening to Arabic radio, talking about TV shows, picking up Loaded for the first time in years to see if it was still doing what we used to do – and being thankful that nothing of my era remains.

When I started IFG (I Feel Good magazine publishers), the ad director, Anna Hyde, and I went up to Leeds and walked round the streets knocking on doors, trying to get advertising for the official football club magazine. I'd gone from lunching with the likes of Cartier, Gucci and Tag Heuer to chatting with a woman in a shoe shop. For Anna the change was even more startling: she'd just left Emap, where she'd recently concluded a cross-title advertising deal with Nike worth £1m. We looked at each other, as we came away with one ad – for Morgan Lettings, an estate agent – and wondered if it was really worthwhile. Three years on I know it was.

I like the adverts in Jack so much I've listed them next to the contents page. They look great – Hilfiger, Prada, Paul Smith, Gucci.

When you look through the mag, I really believe it feels like you've got the world in your pocket. We've included a mixture of must-haves with whatever washed through. We found ourselves at Uri Geller's house on some other business, and the amount of pictures on display of him with the world's most famous 20th-centurians caught our eyes. And so Uri ended up talking to us about Michael Jackson, Muhammad Ali, John Lennon – and his mum. It's the nearest Jack gets to celebrity. We took exception to Naomi Klein's expression "No Logo" and reproduced a spread of our favourite logos.

It's a weird range of content. Our reviews include bread and wine, shotguns and Bentleys, Mahler and The Streets. The point being that there's so much going on out there we wanted to break out of the formula of books page, film page, restaurant page.

Magazines are about people. I say this time and again; one person CAN change a magazine but I always think it helps to get a team-feel than spend all your money on some expensive writers you can read in newspapers for a fraction of a magazine cover price.

I also think it's important to try and find new writers: people who are hungry and keen to cut their teeth. Our wildlife expert is Dr Karl Shuker, who contributes to Fortean Times but who also recently won a quarter of a million pounds on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? You need luck to propel you on.

Hunting for a squad: I found Sarah Hay at a club; met Richard Bacon at a racetrack; and Jon Ronson and I have known each other since we were juniors on Sounds back in the Eighties.

Because he travels all over the world – an international man of mystery – our fashion director, William Gilchrist, shot the work as he went along. Then he told us he intended to run all the different stories spliced up, William Burroughs-style, so no two consecutive spreads are the same. We thought he was mad, but it looks great. Weirdly, throughout production month, William's beard went grey.

With a week to go, Paul Henderson, the senior vice-president in charge of content – a title he stole from Homer Simpson – announced he was to become a dad the day our third issue is due. We laughed at the production schedule from hell that he will face this autumn, relieved that we've all got our first-borns out into the world already. Then Simon announced he was getting married. It was as if the closer we got to the madness of going live with the magazine, the more we searched for security in our personal lives.

As we went through the last week the pressure just built and built and the office grew eerily silent, apart from the sound of brains cracking and eyes drying in front of screens.

Jack is the magazine to read between the Serengeti, the office and the terrace. You can read it anywhere; it fits in your pocket or your girlfriend's handbag – or her mouth, one wag commented.

I wasn't too sure I could still do it. I feel like Bobby Robson; I feel my age. I know I've recruited the talent and got the stories, but from raising the money to getting the mags into the shops, it's been a long process. And you know what's the biggest bastard challenge of all. Tomorrow I've got to start issue 2.

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