Knocking down the rich and famous is supposed to be a national pastime in Britain. So how to explain the fact that, nearly two decades after its inception, OK! magazine has become the country's best-selling celebrity weekly?
With its flattering photo shoots and sympathetic editorial coverage, OK! is the antithesis of the supposedly insatiable public appetite for catching stars unawares, their skin blemishes exposed, their hair out of place, as they head across the supermarket carpark in their elasticated trousers.
Yet, in the last set of biannual magazine circulation figures, OK! posted a sale of 683,451, not only leaving rival Hello! (405,615) but knocking Closer from the top spot in the celebrity sector. "We're the only celebrity weekly that's not in decline", says Suzanne Kerins, OK!'s acting editor. "We came out on top of the ABCs with our highest ever, and we're still rising. Compared to last year we're still 16 per cent up. It's incredible."
Kerins believes that OK!'s success is a direct result of its editorial line, and that the appetite for critical celebrity coverage is waning. Heat, which once had everyone rushing to the news-stands, is in decline, she argues.
"A couple of years ago, Heat was a cult magazine – they were really hot. And now they're becoming cold. All they're doing now, week in, week out, is who's hot, who's not, who's fat, who's thin, who needs surgery and who doesn't need surgery. It gets boring, it gets really boring," she says. "When people read OK! they want something aspirational, it's the dream. They want to go inside a celebrity's house and see how glitzy and glamorous it is. It's a formula that works for us."
Despite this, Kerins, who is standing in for editor Lisa Byrne while she is on maternity leave, says the magazine does conduct rigorous interviews. "We've got some great reporters working for us, and we'll always have a meeting beforehand, and make sure they ask the tough questions that need to be asked," she says. "A lot of the other magazines probably aren't getting that access, and that's why they're sticking the knife in, because they're so aggrieved. I'm sure if the celebrity went to them they'd be nice to them anyway."
But is OK! too nice? Yes, they have exclusive access to stars, but when all you can read about is their domestic bliss, what is the attraction? And for Kerins, who formerly worked in the back-stabbing world of the Daily Mirror's 3am Girls, isn't all this celebrity worship a bit boring?
"No," Kerins say. "It's good to put them on a pedestal. Why do you want to knock them? Unless they've gone and murdered someone there's no reason. Look at Victoria Beckham: she's a footballer's wife, and she has achieved a great deal. Not only is she a loyal wife and good mother, but she's a successful pop star in her own right, a fashion designer, and she does her bit for charity as well. I don't find her boring. I'd rather see Victoria in the paper than read about Mr Brown. And I think most women would do."
The last decade's frenzy over footballers and their wives is a trend that OK! has actively led. Where once images of a footballer's girlfriend would be relegated to the odd cutaway shot on Match of the Day, suddenly Wags are as bankable as royalty. Wayne Rooney and Coleen McLoughlin have been at the centre of a wedding-rights battle between OK! and Hello! Last year Hello! claimed to have bought access to their nuptials, but a last-minute bid by OK! for a reported £3.2m secured the rights. "They never had it, we poached it, and we've got it," says Kerins. "Wayne and Coleen decided to go for the best magazine with the highest readership. It's going to be huge. It's going to be the celebrity wedding of the year."
And this is where OK! has changed with the times. The format of staged photoshoots and PR-led content may have remained the same, but they have cleverly followed changes in the "celebocracy".
"Footballers have become the celebrities", says Kerins. "On the party circuit, five years ago if you went to the Met bar, you would be walking in there and guaranteed seeing Noel and Liam Gallagher, decent A-list celebrities. If you go to these places now, it's very hard to find these people in there – but the Wags are out more, footballers are out more, and they have become the new celebrities."
Since its launch in 1990, OK! has attempted to undercut the Spanish-owned Hello! A Spanish edition of OK! launched this month, and there are plans for editions in France and Japan. Another reason OK!'s circulation has risen is its launch of two supplements last year: Hot Stars, which is less sympathetic to its subjects and borrows heavily in style from Heat, and OK! USA, a selection of the best American stories.
Although Kerins says that the internet has so far not been a priority for OK! – "If we're going to break a story, we'll break it in the magazine," she says – she hints at forthcoming changes to the magazine's website, and hopes that these could provide yet another circulation lift. "There are a couple of really exciting things we're looking at. Really good, big things which I think will complement the magazine, and boost sales even more."