OK! magazine: A bite of the Big Apple

Sarah Ivens has a job to make Carrie Bradshaw drool: editor of the US version of 'OK!' Ian Burrell reports
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Chigwell's own Sarah Ivens is living the dream. It's as if she's acting out a scene from Sex and the City where Carrie walks through Manhattan and sees her picture on an advertisement on the side of a New York bus.

Except this is for real and Ivens is not just writing a column, but is also editing the publication that she hopes will become required reading for stars from Hollywood to Broadway.

The Stateside launch of Richard Desmond's OK! threatens to revolutionise the US celebrity magazine market, where titles such as People, Us Weekly and Star generate six-figure circulations. These are magazines that don't hesitate to dish the dirt on the stars, performing a media role that in Britain is still largely the turf of the red-top gossip columns. OK!, of course, likes to think of itself as the friend of the stars, cosying up to Sir Elton and Princess Posh with a sycophancy that would make even Hello! blush.

Its launch in the US has prompted comments from rivals that American readers will not be impressed by OK!'s willingness to pay stars for photo-shoots and give them approval over the accompanying copy.

Larry Hackett, deputy managing editor of People, told the New York Daily News: "Maybe it will work [for OK!] here the way it does in England. Then again, the English also like warm beer."

When Sarah Ivens had put her first edition to bed (cover star: Jessica Simpson), she headed not for some olde English pub but straight to Planet Hollywood for a big party with her friends. The choice of venue immediately prompted some teasing from the New York Post.

Says Ivens: "I told Robert Earl, who owns the Planet Hollywood chain, that it was my 30th birthday and I didn't know what to do, and he said, 'Well, have the fourth floor,'" she says. "He was fabulous - he generously threw me an Eighties disco in Planet Hollywood with free food and free cocktails all night. Some of my friends flew over from London; the staff were there; my husband and my friends from New York. It was really good fun and we partied all night."

So Ivens has lost no time networking. The night before she spoke to The Independent MediaWeekly she had been out with publicist Ken Sunshine (clients include Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio and Justin Timberlake) and showed him OK!'s first edition. "I said, 'Come on Ken, what d'you think?' and he said, 'It's great - and I really appreciate your honesty.'"

When Ivens started working at the British edition of OK! she was pleased to discover "they have relationships with celebrities". She cites Elton, Victoria Beckham and Simon Cowell as examples. She is now trying to form similar relationships with US celebrities who "will not only give us covers, but get us noticed by the right kind of people".

Jessica Simpson was chosen for the front page because she is "beautiful, charming, boys want to go out with her, girls want to be friends with her, she's a perfect OK! cover girl", says Ivens. OK! cover girls are "accessible but glamorous and should be inspirational to our readers". No-go areas are feuds, "it's divorce!" revelations and photo stories on celebrity weight problems.

Ivens says: "I'm keen to keep a positive relationship going between the stars and us. I think the readers need something different - all the other [American celebrity] magazines look the same. The publicists I've talked to are very happy that a different magazine with a positive attitude is coming out because all the other magazines are very negative."

She moved to New York three months ago to plan for the launch. Her husband Stefan Demetriou - a young high-flyer who runs EMI's DVD division - has moved across the Atlantic, too, after being given a New York-based role by the record company. The couple met at the University of Kent at Canterbury and married five years ago.

But Ivens' journalistic ambitions began long before her student days. She did work experience stints on her local Epping Forest Gazette, The Sunday Times (no, she is not related to deputy editor Martin) and Tatler, where she had a six-month placement. "I knew I wanted to work at a glossy monthly and wrote to all of them. Tatler was the nicest," she says. "The joke was that I was a 20-year-old Essex girl not having a clue who Sir and Lady Hoorah were."

After graduating with a degree in economics and politics, she took a job as a staff writer at Marie Claire Health and Beauty (two years) before joining the Daily Mail (six months, "baptism of fire").

She moved to IPC Media to relaunch Women's Journal where the task was to turn "a really old and traditional magazine" into a "strong fashion title having amazing features". The magazine folded in November 2001. "It was gutting because it was a beautiful product and we were just starting to get good advertisers in. We were really hit by September 11," says Ivens, who had risen to associate editor.

Within hours Sunday Mirror editor Tina Weaver was on the phone offering her a job, launching a supplement called M Celebs. It was the happiest period of her short career. Weaver, says Ivens, "shows you that being an editor you can still have fun with your staff and take risks... That's where I realised there was such a huge appetite for celebrity gossip and more than anything pictures. Love them or hate them, people want to know what's going on with them."

Although Ivens had spent only a brief period at the Mail she made enough of an impression to be "lured back", this time as assistant editor, Femail.

"I think the Daily Mail is a fabulous paper and I have got huge respect for Paul Dacre," she says, bravely for a Desmond employee. "I really think anyone who wants to learn their trade should spend some time at the Daily Mail because you are worked bloody hard but you pick up so much. You learn to edit very quickly, to come up with ideas quickly and pay attention to beautiful photography in the newspaper. People love it or they hate it, but you can't deny they are totally focused and targeted."

She applies that same lesson in her current role, knowing that she needs OK! to appeal to potential magazine purchasers across America. "It's no good me sitting in a swanky office in Fifth Avenue thinking, 'What do I like?'"

Her love of pictures led her to train as a photographer and her pictures have appeared in most of the titles she has worked for.

Girl-about-town Ivens is also the author of four books: A Modern Girl's Guide to Dynamic Dating, A Modern Girl's Guide to Etiquette, A Modern Girl's Guide to Getting Hitched and A Bride's Guide to Unique Weddings. "The publishers are asking me to do more so I will have to concentrate on that at some point," she says.