MEDIA HEADLINER: Emap Metro’s prophet of pop stakes his reputation on Heat. Emap’s launch is a test of Mark Frith’s contemporary touch, Anna Griffiths says

Mark Frith fumbles under the desk, finds a fruit sticker and fiddles with it while he’s quizzed about the latest launch from Emap Metro. A mere scrap of a lad, at just 28 years old, Frith is under the spotlight as editor of Metro’s new venture, the weekly entertainment magazine, Heat, which launches next week.

Mark Frith fumbles under the desk, finds a fruit sticker and

fiddles with it while he’s quizzed about the latest launch from Emap

Metro. A mere scrap of a lad, at just 28 years old, Frith is under the

spotlight as editor of Metro’s new venture, the weekly entertainment

magazine, Heat, which launches next week.



But don’t be fooled by Frith’s age - this is the third magazine he’s

edited within the Emap empire, and considering the vast sums that are

being poured into this one, he appears to be pretty laid back and

confident about its prospects. ’I know that it’s going to happen,’ he

states. ’It’s not my money, it’s the company’s money, and it was their

decision to do it, and they made the right decision.’



Scrutinising Frith’s tall, gangly figure (he’s a whopping 6ft, 6in tall)

I can’t detect any signs of real tension, apart from the now crumpled

sticker in the palm of his hand, but one of Frith’s acquaintances

assures me that he’s just very good at hiding it.



One year into his slightly nebulous degree (his own admission) of

cultural studies at East London Poly, Frith took a sabbatical to edit

the college magazine, Overdraft. Smitten with his new occupation, he

decided to send his work off to several magazines and received a reply

from one, Smash Hits, which he had read avidly since he was ten. ’It was

my dream to edit Smash Hits,’ he says. Three-and-a-half years later,

when he was 23 years old, his dream came true.



Frith then moved over to edit Emap Metro’s Sky magazine, which, by the

time he left, had recorded its highest ever ABC of 186,000

(July-December 1997). Frith admits it was not all plain sailing. ’The

first year at Sky wasn’t very good. I really took my time to get to

grips with it.’ He changed the focus of the magazine to reflect his love

for entertainment, which helped to turn its circulation around, although

it was a slow process.



Thumbing through the latest dummy of Heat, which has been produced every

week for the past three months to make sure that everyone is up to

scratch with the deadlines and drive for exclusives, Frith seems to

savour every page. ’We’ve sensed a need for a different magazine -

no-one just likes music any more. People we know love music, film and

TV. You’ll feel really left out if you don’t get our news. The covers

will pull you in.’ Frith is keen to emphasise that the magazine will

appeal to men and women.



With a marketing budget of around pounds 5 million, Heat cannot afford

to fail. But those who have worked with Frith closely assure me that his

powers of prediction in terms of popular culture are unbeatable.



Barry McIlheney, managing director of Heat, says: ’He’s most famous for

being like a human sponge. He has these uncanny antennae for what’s

about to happen. He will tell you what and who is going to be mainstream

about two months before it happens with unerring accuracy.’



Mark Ellen, editor-in-chief at Emap Metro, who has worked with Frith on

both Sky and Heat, recalls: ’He put Prince William, aged 12, into Smash

Hits as a pop poster which brought phenomenal publicity.’



But such prescience doesn’t come without effort. Frith keeps a pen and

paper by his bed, so that he can scribble down ideas that come to him in

the middle of the night. Perhaps concerned that his nocturnal

scribblings make him sound too obsessive, he says: ’I hope it’s kept in

check.’



He admits he has ideas for a new title if Heat gets off the ground.

’Everyone has a pet project. If this is a success we will know a lot

more about the market. I have an idea leading off from this and I will

present it.’ But for now his lips are sealed.



When he’s not working, Frith likes to watch films and see his mates, and

is unlikely to be found lording it in some elite media enclave. As one

acquaintance puts it: ’He’s really straight. He fucking lives magazines

and the culture.’ McIlheney describes Frith as: ’Larging it in his own

way, down the multiplex on the weekend.’



The endearing thing about Frith, who looks like the eternal student, is

that he is not a precocious, egotistical personality who is liable to

throw tantrums. He still seems to be reeling from the reality of his

editorship of three magazines.



’I’m sceptical of people with egos who get carried way with themselves,’

says Frith, who one senses is not totally at home with the need to be

wheeled out for publicity around the launch of Heat. ’I’m not a

motor-mouth editor,’ he concedes, ’but I do know that we have to spread

the word.’



When Heat hits the newsstands next week, Frith will avoid newsagents, at

least for the foreseeable future. ’The thing that really gets to me -

and when I was on Sky I was banned from doing this - is going into a

newsagents and seeing lots of magazines on the shelves.’



I resolve to buy a copy of Heat near Frith’s offices, if only to subdue

his refreshing paranoia.





THE FRITH FILE

1990: Smash Hits, journalist

1994: Smash Hits, editor

1995: Sky, editor

1998: Heat, launch editor



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