My Life In Media: Marie O'Riordan

'I stand in for Mariella Frostrup at The Observer, and I fantasise that I can also be her occasional stand-in for her frequent dinners à deux with George Clooney'
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The Independent Online

Marie O'Riordan, 48, is the editor of Marie-Claire, which sells 330,000 copies every month – second only to Glamour in the women's market. The magazine is currently celebrating its 20th year in print and the anniversary issue will be available in July. Born and raised in Dublin, O'Riordan remains a fan of Irish literature and music. She lives in south London with her partner, Ben.

What inspired you to embark on a career in the media?

Mainly my lack of qualifications to do anything else. An arts degree in English literature and history generally guarantees either teaching or "something in publishing". Luckily, my short trial as a teacher in Dublin didn't appeal so the offer of a "free bed" (the floor) from my younger brother meant that a one-way Ryanair flight to London was duly purchased. I used to fancy the more esoteric world of book publishing, but the magazine world took a chance on me when the bookish sorts didn't.

When you were 15 years old which newspaper did your family get, and did you read it?

The Irish Times and the Irish Independent. Apart from The Sunday Times, it was very rare for Brit papers to be consumed by Irish families in the Seventies. Now, of course, British tabloids are very successful in Ireland.

And what were your favourite TV and radio programmes?

Growing up in a household of six men, it was inevitably Match of the Day. If I was being indulged, Parkinson was allowed. RTE's famous The Late Late Show was probably the all-time favourite, enabling, as it did, both generations to sit around arguing about how crap it was that week.

Describe your job.

Everything in the world that I like doing and I'm getting paid to do it. Researching and producing an eclectic mix of glamour and grit on a daily basis. Mixing with hugely talented, original and enthusiastic people (with only the occasional bore) and generally in very swanky venues. The fun and excitement of editing for a smart, female readership is infinite as the boundaries are constantly changing.

What's the first media you turn to in the mornings?

Radio 4's Today programme (5 Live still hasn't won me over), quickly followed by

Do you consult any media sources during the day?

Of course – every major British newspaper online and in print; myriad TV channels; millions of websites. Oh, and all my competitors as well as lots of American magazines. How do I ever get anything done?

What do you tune into when you get home?

Radio 4. Its sheer variety and sense of fair play makes me love everything about this country; BBC television channels – one to four – ditto. Channel 4 and E4 – I reckon it's what my readers tune in to. Sky News, too – it really is a superb news channel, especially for breaking stories.

What is the best thing about your job?

Working on a worldwide brand that everyone seems to love and admire. Also, the people on my team and the clever geniuses I meet in the worlds of fashion, beauty and politics.

And the worst?

Having to engage in the size double zero debate. Glossies are respectful and adoring of the female body – it's the weekly magazines and the tabloids that perpetuate criticism of body size.

How do you feel you influence the media?

Marie-Claire tends to be first on the speed dial of any TV or radio news producer when there is any woman-led news item or during election time when political parties decide to address the issue of appealing to women. So I guess this makes us pretty damn influential.

What's the proudest achievement in your working life?

Our recent "eco chic" issue, which firmly established our "fashion with heart" credentials in the eyes of our 21st-century consumers.

And what's your most embarrassing moment?

Interrupting a conversation between Noel Gallagher and Bono at an awards ceremony to explain to Bono that I was a long-lost ex-colleague of his wife's from 20 years ago. He was charming, and then asked if I wouldn't mind if he returned to his chat with Noel. My ears are still burning as I recall it.

What is your Sunday paper?

The Observer. I am Mariella Frostrup's "agony aunt" stand-in when she has babies and takes holidays. Being invited to substitute for such an intellectual beauty has bought my loyalty for life. I fantasise that I can also be her occasional stand-in for her frequent dinners à deux with George Clooney. I'll keep you posted...

Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire.

Replacing Oprah. I hear her ratings are slipping and a gobby white Irish woman is just the ticket.

What would you do if you didn't work in the media?

Run an orphanage or a children's charity.

Who in the media do you most admire and why?

Kirsty Wark. I am in awe of her ability to be so intellectually brilliant at the same time as looking so effortlessly glamorous.

The CV

1986: Joins more magazine as production editor

1994: Appointed editor of more

1996: Moves to edit Elle

1999: Becomes group publishing director of Emap Youth Market, looking after Bliss, J17, Look and Minx magazines

2001: Joins IPC Media as editor of Marie-Claire. O'Riordan has since overseen two major redesigns and launched, as well as putting the first man on the magazine's cover – David Beckham