Paul Morrison

Pioneering travel magazine publisher
Click to follow

"Passion for travel": that is both the strapline of the December edition of Wanderlust magazine, and the phrase that sums up the life of its publisher, Paul Morrison.

Paul Gerard Morrison, publisher, writer and photographer: born Birmingham 30 May 1958; married 2004 Lyn Hughes; died Windsor, Berkshire 1 December 2004.

"Passion for travel": that is both the strapline of the December edition of Wanderlust magazine, and the phrase that sums up the life of its publisher, Paul Morrison.

Many of the best ideas in business - from the original route network for Southwest Airlines to the Virgin logo - were sketched out on napkins. Morrison and his partner, Lyn Hughes, went one better: they created the model for a travel magazine on the back of a sick bag.

Late in 1992, they took a break from successful careers as management consultants and flew to Ecuador. To keep down the weight of their packs, they took no inflight reading. Instead, to pass the interminable flight, they set to work designing their dream publication for independent travellers. By the time the plane landed, they had come up with both the format and the name for the magazine: Wanderlust. "The name says it all - you've either got it or you haven't," Morrison observed.

Morrison was born in Birmingham in 1958, and educated at Bulmershe School, near Reading, then King's College, Cambridge, where he studied Economics. With Lyn Hughes, whom he met while working for Mars group, he shared a love of travel, and they both took advantage of the flexibility of their subsequent work as management consultants for a series of blue-chip companies to make journeys around the world.

On their extended trip around South America, they upgraded their stationery from sick bag to exercise book and carried on "plotting and planning" the magazine. It was to appeal to those of us who celebrate the power of travel to enhance the lives of both the traveller and the host community. But judging from previous form, it was doomed to fail.

Wanderlust was a preposterous idea. The history of travel magazines is, with a very few exceptions, littered with losers. Numerous publications started by established writers and editors have folded after a few issues or simply failed to make it from screen to street. Neither Morrison nor Hughes had any experience of journalism or magazine production - but they were endowed with bloody-minded determination on an industrial scale.

In March 1993, they returned to their home in Windsor, and to unemployment. With some of their remaining savings they bought an Apple Mac, and put it in the spare bedroom. "The naïvety in which we entered the enterprise was an asset," Morrison said later, "because if we knew what we were letting ourselves in for we probably wouldn't have done it."

The easy part was assigning roles. In the absence of any other candidates for the positions, Morrison became publisher, with Hughes as editor. Getting the first edition out was much tougher. While Hughes set out to convince writers and photographers to fill the editorial pages of Wanderlust, Morrison had to persuade a printer to take on the embryonic magazine - and entice advertisers. He quickly found that Wanderlust touched a nerve:

These were a lot of people themselves working in spare bedrooms, selling very specialist trips to the Galapagos Islands or India and so forth, and they had the same challenge as we had trying to find customers. They didn't have high street presence; they wanted to find the kind of traveller that we were ourselves; and so we presented them with an opportunity.

To create a professional magazine required enormous reserves of stamina, plus all-night stints to hit press deadlines. In the absence of established distribution channels, Morrison and Hughes drove around London delivering the magazine to shops. Issue 1, November 1993, had an initial print run of 5,000. It set the tone for the magazine: a mix of sharp writing about both adventurous and familiar destinations, supported by compelling images and mixed with news, reviews and advice for independent travellers. It quickly sold out as news spread of a fresh, new magazine that spoke to the spirited and sensitive venturer.

Morrison would insist that he wrote and photographed for the magazine only in order to save cash, but in reality his creative work was first class - as shown by this account from the South American altiplano:

Great plumes of steam rose up from an array of geysers, fumaroles and bubbling mud pools. I emerged from the warmth of the minibus to a rude awakening in the freezing air, and I willed the sun's rays to speed down the mountainside. It arrived with Incan grandeur to drive the chill from my bones and light up the steam - the whole area resembled a great Turkish bath, with silhouetted figures shuffling in and out of view.

During Wanderlust's first decade, the circulation multiplied and the magazine picked up awards and accolades. Yet the founders stayed down-to-earth and focused. Hughes blended a constant stream of fresh ideas, writing and photography to create something addictively inspirational, while Morrison performed the greatest trick of all: building a strong team, and making a commercial success out of the magazine.

World music was another of Morrison's passions in life, and in 2002 he successfully relaunched Songlines, the world music magazine, after it had been dropped by Haymarket Publishing. Meanwhile, Wanderlust itself went from strength to strength. This summer, Morrison oversaw a comprehensive revamp of the magazine that endowed it with dazzling production standards while remaining true to its original aims.

The strength of the magazine Morrison and Hughes created is demonstrated by the plaudits paid by the figureheads of independent travel. Bill Bryson said "There simply isn't a better magazine for the serious traveller"; Tony Wheeler, founder of Lonely Planet, is a regular columnist; and Mark Ellingham, founder of Rough Guides, bought into the magazine last year. At the time he said,

Once or twice a year people approach me with an idea for a Rough Guide travel magazine. My response is always the same: it exists already, and it's called Wanderlust - the advertisers love it, and the readers are as faithful as the family dog.

Ellingham describes Paul Morrison as "a cracking good guy whose wit, can-do enthusiasm, and complete lack of pretension will be enormously missed". Everyone in the business of independent travel feels proud to have known Paul, and outraged that the world should have lost someone so courageous, gentle and talented. But he has left a legacy in the shape of a magazine that will enthuse and inform generations of travellers. As he said, "Once you've got wanderlust in your blood, you've got it for life."

Simon Calder