From the Queen to the Queen Vic: 'The Lady' selects its leading ladies

Jonathan Brown
Monday 15 February 2010 01:00 GMT

When Boris Johnson's sister, Rachel, assumed the editorship of The Lady promising to double the tiny circulation of the venerable publication in a year or die trying, she knew that the shock waves from her cultural revolution would get the teacups rattling in the parlours of the nation's gentlefolk.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, catching the eye of a new breed of Range Rover-driving, quinoa-munching reader from her own Notting Hill set, while still hanging on to the subscriptions of the Stannah stairlift-riding generation of the counties, has proved a problematic juggling act.

Only last month, she admitted to being bombarded with lavender-scented handwritten letters from disgruntled readers, admitting to diners at a magazine lunch that mistakes had been made. Articles giving tips on the etiquette of bedding your child's nanny, and encouraging pet owners to adorn their beloved dogs with knitted Christmas antlers, generated splutters of disbelief from lovers of England's oldest weekly women's magazine.

But with the latest circulation figures showing a near-10 per cent rise in sales, the revolution continues apace today with the publication of a list to mark 125 years of loyal service to the waited-on classes with an uncompromisingly modern roll call honouring the magazine's new role models, "Ladies of Today".

For a publication which once eschewed offering weekend trips as competition prizes (allegedly out of fear that they may be won by philandering couples), there is a refreshingly racy collection of women included. The controversial artist Tracey Emin, whose most famous works include the menstrual blood-stained My Bed and an appliquéd tent entitled Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-95, is included, as is Jacqueline Gold, the chief executive of the lingerie chain Ann Summers.

Alongside heartland pin-ups such as the Queen and the Duchess of Cornwall, Ms Johnson's panel has included the former Hot Gossip creator and ousted Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips. Among the representatives from politics, activism and journalism, the EastEnders actress Barbara Windsor is honoured. And in another nod to the changing sensitivities of the times for a publication more associated with grouse moors than global warming, so is Caroline Lucas, the Green MEP.

Ms Johnson said: "A distinguished panel at The Lady and beyond put their heads together and after many weeks of lively, free and frank (ie vicious) argument, settled on the 125 women we regard as Ladies of Today.

"This is not a scientific list, nor are these your usual run of females; we haven't chosen them for their looks/vital statistics/reality TV careers, but because we think these are women who think not, 'What can I get out of this?' but 'What can I put in?'"

Other names included on the list are the veteran singer Dame Shirley Bassey, the new Poet Laureate, Carol Anne Duffy, as well as the "golden oldie" newsreader Moira Stuart. Also selected were Elizabeth Wilmshurst, the former Foreign Office legal adviser who resigned in protest at the decision to go to war in Iraq, and the Gurkhas champion Joanna Lumley.

The new publisher who appointed Johnson in her first editor's job – making her only The Lady's ninth chief – was Ben Budworth, the great-grandson of its founder, Thomas Gibson Bowles. Despite the long-term dwindling readership currently hovering around 30,000, the new management team see a glittering future for the trusted brand – said to be the Queen's favoured read – with plans to roll out into other services such as insurance and travel.

Class act: The glossy for the gentry

Founded 125 years ago by Thomas Gibson Bowles – a colourful Tory MP, grandfather of the Mitford sisters, and who launched Vanity Fair – The Lady has long straddled the class divide. It seeks to appeal both to those seeking employment as, and those requiring the services of, domestic help. The Royal Family has been a loyal advertiser, but social changes have eroded its traditional readership since the Edwardian heyday epitomised in Upstairs, Downstairs. While working within the magazine's labyrinthine building, Stella Gibbons wrote Cold Comfort Farm, and Nancy Mitford was another contributor. Today it is in the hands of the founder's great-grandson, a former radio station boss who has brought full colour to its pages, adding a website and installing a well-connected, high- profile journalist as editor.

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