How 'Fabulous' magazine won the respect of the High Street

As The News of the World’s glossy supplement celebrates its 100th issue, editor Sally Eyden tells Ian Burrell she has experienced pride and prejudice
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The Independent Online

"We had many, many obstacles when we launched Fabulous", says Sally Eyden in a moment of candour, "because of the perception that comes with The News of the World".

Eyden is editor of Britain's most-read weekly magazine but only now does she feel confident enough to talk about the sniffiness in the fashion industry when, almost two years ago, News International made what the NoW editor Colin Myler heralded as a ground-breaking play, a genuine glossy magazine for the red top sector. "Nobody has produced a magazine on the scale that we are doing, and of this quality," said Myler at the time, boasting that Marks & Spencer and L'Oréal advertising was already on board.

In fact, things were not so straight-forward, as Eyden can now admit – Fabulous having celebrated its 100th edition yesterday, with advertising revenues up 13 per cent year-on-year and bucking the market. "It was a struggle," she says. "Top Shop wouldn't lend clothes to us at the start, or Warehouse, or Oasis."

The upscale photographers that Fabulous wanted to commission for luxurious fashion shoots were also nervous of having their names in a supplement that accompanies Britain's most popular purveyor of tabloid gossip. "People would not want to shoot for us," says Eyden. "It was a big thing for us when photographers were proud to put their names to the pictures. We know it's a fantastic product but that shows there is a sea change in perception within the industry of what Fabulous is."

Now Fabulous features the pictures of the likes of Derrick Santini, more normally associated with Vogue and Tatler. A recent "world exclusive" cover interview with Peter Andre was swung partly by the promise of a photo shoot with Hamish Brown. The pictures of Andre in his underpants were apparently much coveted by rival magazines such as Heat.

That Fabulous landed the Andre scoop in the first place is claimed by Eyden as an indication of her magazine's growing stature. "When Peter split from Jordan, everyone wanted that exclusive and everyone was in the bidding for it, even the paper. But his agent (Claire Powell at Can Associates) wanted to go with us."

The combination of glossy production values and a reach of 5,303,000 readers (3,093,000 of them women) is what gives Fabulous leverage in the bidding wars.

Celebrities such as Paris Hilton, who Eyden says would have once regarded a NoW supplement as "a complete no-no", have also agreed to be featured. The 100th edition led with an interview of Simon Cowell, conducted by Britain's Got Talent judge Amanda Holden, who was hired as a Fabulous columnist after appearing in the magazine. "She's everything that Fabulous is – cheeky, irreverent, great fashion, she's a mum, she's down to earth and not scared to laugh at herself, she ticks all those boxes," says Eyden. "Any woman that can keep Piers Morgan and Simon Cowell in their place is a fabulous girl."

Fabulous has clearly benefited from this relationship with reality television. Like ITV on a Saturday night, it has an appeal that cuts across generations. "We have created what we call the Fabulous attitude, regardless of age. We have readers in their eighties who say they buy the magazine and that their daughters and granddaughters can all enjoy it."

So News International is keen to highlight statistics showing that women under 35 – increasingly hard to reach for newspaper companies – make up 21 per cent of Fabulous readers, compared with 18 per cent for its predecessor supplement, Sunday. It also claims to have three times the number of under-35 female readers than the Mail on Sunday's magazine, You.

Eyden says the key competition is not so much the other newspaper supplements as the paid-for weekly magazine sector. "There's no other weekly magazine that has the reach of Fabulous. We have a higher readership than Grazia, Now and Closer combined." This scale means that it is not just reality television stars that want to be associated with the magazine. Sarah Brown guest edited an edition in July, to highlight the work of the charity Wellbeing of Women, of which she is patron.

Editions have reached 100 pages, with up to 28 pages of advertising – comparable to a paid-for weekly. Eyden, 32, the daughter of two teachers from Leicester, joined Fabulous before launch as deputy editor, having previously worked at showbiz magazine Reveal and on the Mail on Sunday and Daily Express. Since she succeeded Fabulous launch editor Mandy Appleyard, who stepped down to go freelance in July 2008, she has had to become skilled in all areas of media.

After organising a Fabulous roadshow, which toured British cities early last year, staging catwalk shows and modelling competitions, she had a hands-on role in the magazine's recent television advertising campaign and introduces the online "webisodes" that appear on the title's website to explain the backstory to the cover shoots. A recent production featured singer Alexandra Burke dressed to the nines and surrounded by huskies in an oddball interpretation of Alice Through The Looking Glass. "I feel like a princess today, I feel like a Barbie," Burke tells the webisode camera.

That's what Eyden wants the readers to feel too. "A lot of the real-life weekly magazines you can buy from news-stand can really drag you down," she says. "Fabulous is gorgeous and aspirational. We call it masspirational – aspirational for the mass market."