Susan Crewe: My Life in Media

Interview,Sophie Morris
Monday 01 October 2007 00:00

Susan Crewe, 58, is the editor of House & Garden, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this month. She was born and raised in Cumbria and learnt to farm, before joining Harpers & Queen, where she was responsible for the "Jennifer's Diary" socialite column. She has a son and a daughter, both in their thirties, and divides her time between Notting Hill and Cumbria. Crewe loves to garden, describing herself as "the quintessential House & Garden reader".

What inspired you to embark on a career in the media?

I never assumed I was going to have a career. I was brought up in a household that hadn't even heard of the media. I was aware that somewhere out there was a machine pumping out information and when I was at my boarding school I used to read Bernard Levin, and the columns of the man who was to become my husband, Quentin Crewe. In this very uninformed way I was stretching out to it, although I didn't know it existed.

When you were 15 which newspaper did your family get, and did you read it?

We only got The Times and I did read it.

And what were your favourite television and radio programmes?

We weren't allowed to watch television but I remember going out with friends at the weekend and watching Doctor Who, which was just the most exciting thing that ever happened.

Describe your job.

I edit House & Garden, which I believe is the best élite yet user-friendly design magazine in the world. My responsibility is for every word and picture and every dot and comma, and I'm responsible for the enjoyment and engagement of the people I work with and the perception of the magazine in the broader world.

What's the first media you turn to in the mornings?

Radio 4.

Do you consult any media sources during the day?

If I'm having lunch at my desk I read a paper – a different one each day, because you have to fight being a creature of habit all the time. It depends whether I'm feeling frivolous and frisky or serious. In the evening I go home with the Evening Standard and I read it with a cup of tea. House & Garden doesn't break stories so I don't really have to be plugged in to the news, but our art director is so I mosey over and see what's on his screen.

What is the best thing about your job?

Being in touch with interesting people on an almost-daily basis, and access to really wonderful things, whether it's a beautiful piece of craftsmanship or an astonishing design.

And the worst?

Balancing the attention to detail – as I think an editor should be very assiduous about everything – and being the public face of the magazine. I'm a little bit disorganised and untidy so I get really immersed in a piece of copy and then realise I look a little bedraggled and have to go somewhere where I need to look clean and tidy.

How do you feel you influence the media?

Not at all. I think we all influence each other. I'll look at another magazine and grind my teeth and say they've copied us on that one, and then I realise that I've been influenced by someone else.

What's the proudest achievement in your working life?

For the last three years we have had an environment correspondent – before most publications did. Our Green Pages are really well researched and straightforward and they are done in a very accessible way. About two years ago we had a seminar where we asked 250 prominent interior designers if their clients ever asked for energy-efficient designs – at a time when none of them did – and now many do.

And what's your most embarrassing moment?

Flying to New York to give a lecture. In the evening there was a party for the magazine, I sat down to have a rest and I overslept and arrived an hour and a half late at the party that was being given in our honour. I still cringe about it.

What is your Sunday paper? And do you have a favourite magazine?

I try to read a different paper every Sunday. I'm a bit inclined to read the papers my friends are writing in so I read Minette Marrin in The Sunday Times and Rosie Boycott whenever she's bursting forth. I love The Week (where Crewe's daughter works) because it gives me an overview of everything that's been happening so I don't have to read too much. My favourite magazine is my own; maybe I'm too protective and loving of it.

Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire?

I find it's enough to live in the moment.

What would you do if you didn't work in the media?

My only academic training is in dairy-herd management and I absolutely know that I wouldn't be farming, as I was a very bad farmer. I would like to be running a programme that looked after prisoners when they are released from jail. I work for a British charity called the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust, which addresses drug and alcohol problems in prisons.

Whom in the media do you most admire and why?

Melvyn Bragg. He's multi-faceted as a writer and broadcaster and researcher and an advocate of the countryside. I think his Radio 4 programme In Our Time is wonderfully stretching yet accessible. It must take a lot of guts to keep it going because it's not easy listening and some of the subjects are very esoteric.

The CV

1970 Studies dairy farming and learns to look after a farm in Cheshire. Begins to write in the mid-1970s and contributes a long-running column, Country Matters, to Vogue

1986 Gets first "real" job in the media as shopping editor on Harpers & Queen (now Bazaar) 1991 Becomes Harpers & Queen's social editor, with the task of modernising its social events and diary column, Jennifer's Diary

1992 Freelances for a year, writing for various magazines and newspapers including The Sunday Times

1994 Appointed editor of House & Garden

2002 Named Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors

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