My Mentor: Valery McConnell on Jill Churcher

'I learnt not to mess with Jill's decisions. She was tough, but also a real visionary'

I first came across Jill when I joined Family Circle as a sub way back in 1985. What she'd done was turn it from a magazine that had cakes on the cover to a magazine that had celebrities on the cover. Back then, that really made a difference. She understood the importance of celebrity way before anybody else did.

When the features editor went on maternity leave, Jill offered me the chance to cover the position, recognising more than I did myself that I had potential. I had a really good time and at the end Jill wanted me to carry on in the role, but I thought that wasn't fair for the person coming back. I rang her up behind Jill's back, and when she found out there was no longer a job for me and I ended up going freelance. I learnt not to mess with her decisions, but we stayed in touch anyway. You have to be tough in magazines.

Jill herself was tough as old boots, but she was a real visionary. In the 1970s, she had launched a magazine called Home & Freezer Digest, just when freezers were coming in. It was A5 size, way before Glamour existed. She realised that all these women were going to be able to bake and freeze ahead, and her idea was that this would give them the freedom to do other things. So she gave them a magazine with lots in it beside cookery, and it flew off the shelves.

When I got the editorship of Yours, she had just retired but said she had some ideas for me. She wrote immaculate copy and was wonderful, but I ended up paying her more than everybody else, because she was so good at negotiating.

She had recovered from bowel cancer, but it came back in June 2006. This was just about the time we decided to turn Yours from a monthly into a fortnightly, and I'd been away producing the dummy. She was very ill but I thought I would go and show her the dummy, even though that broke all the rules of confidentiality. She thought it was fantastic. It was an inspiration for me that she thought it would work.

Valery McConnell is the editor of Yours, which publishes its 50 Years of Everyday Fashion special on Wednesday.

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