MEDIA: HEADLINER; Unassuming editor prepares to guide GQ into safer waters

The perennial deputy has taken on the top job at GQ, Anne-Marie Crawford says

The perennial deputy has taken on the top job at GQ, Anne-Marie Crawford

says



Angus MacKinnon, the editor of GQ, hurries into Conde Nast’s reception

looking vaguely crumpled and unshaven. He is carrying a battered blue

Shellys bag and has damp hair. He’s been swimming and is within a

whisker of being late for our appointment.



As we climb the stairs to the office which was once Michael VerMeulen’s,

we chat inconsequentially. MacKinnon has just done 40 lengths at his

local pool in Marshall Street - hardly the sort of swanky health club

you might expect the editor of a stylish, upmarket men’s magazine to

use.



MacKinnon shrugs: a pool’s a pool to him. As long as it has lanes and he

can plough up and down... it helps clear the head, he says. We should

not be surprised: this is an editor who drives a Fiat Punto; who,

despite having been educated at Wellington and Oxford, is a lifelong

Labour supporter; who likes Pulp and Prokofiev in equal measure; who

claims to be conscious of his health, yet paradoxically took up smoking

again when VerMeulen died in September.



Almost before you know it, the subject of VerMeulen crops up as it will

do often in the course of the next hour and a half. It’s difficult to

profile the new editor of GQ without mentioning his predecessor, the

controversial editor who paid for his lifestyle with his life.



MacKinnon is 42 and is aware of the difficult legacy bequeathed him. His

face darkens as he describes what he felt when he saw VerMeulen’s body

in the mortuary. He confesses to finding it ‘strange’ being in

VerMeulen’s old office. He has tried to stamp his personality on the

place, hanging photographs on the walls and moving the furniture.

There’s a Rupert Bear doll on the shelf and a chunk of fruit cake on the

desk. But the computer in the corner is not switched on and the room

retains a slightly impersonal air.



It’s hard to imagine MacKinnon and VerMeulen working together. As

personalities, the two were polar opposites. Tony Elliott, who owns Time

Out, where MacKinnon worked for six years, recalls him ‘living an

aesthetic, monk-like existence’.



In person, MacKinnon is a reflective, rather serious character, clad in

olive green cords and a crumpled checked shirt. He smokes Camel

cigarettes throughout the interview and his body language suggests he is

vaguely uncomfortable with the whole process - arms folded, gaze

focusing somewhere out of the window as he answers my questions.



MacKinnon claims the differences were what made the relationship with

VerMeulen work. ‘Although Michael was younger than me, I always thought

of him as a wicked uncle figure who took you out for the day and showed

you a good time,’ he says.



The new editor is fully aware that he is not cast in that mould. Nor

would he want to be. ‘Michael is not an act you can follow, it’s

preposterous for me to pretend I could,’ MacKinnon acknowledges. And he

dismisses suggestions that his predilection for scruffy local authority

baths and pounds 8.99 Tesco whisky are a deliberate antidote to some of

the excesses displayed by his predecessor. ‘There are some people who do

jobs like these who are insecure. I’m not. I’m not that bothered by the

trappings of status,’ he says.



So is this the right man to lead the men’s style bible into the next

millennium? MacKinnon readily admits that he is ‘surprised’ at his

appointment and says he wouldn’t have been able to manage it five years

ago.



Eyebrows were raised in some quarters when MacKinnon was offered the

editorship of GQ. In previous jobs, he’s never quite proved himself with

a product of his own. He worked at the New Musical Express in the late

70s, from where Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons went on to garner

headlines and bylines in a way MacKinnon never did. It could be, he

admits, that he is not really ambitious. Maybe that was why he was

content to be a number two at Time Out - Elliott says he was ‘very

thorough but not as lively and risky as the existing editor’ - and

content in the same position under VerMeulen.



Was he hungry enough for the job? Nicholas Coleridge, managing director

of Conde Nast, says he chose MacKinnon because he came up with ‘the

best, most interesting and well-argued job pitch’. He adds: ‘Angus

fought for the job. He appeared in my office every day with some new

suggestion or intrigue.’



Some of those suggestions will be unveiled in the January issue of GQ.

MacKinnon knows that the changes have got to work: this is a crucial

time for men’s magazines and the yardstick by which any editor will

eventually be judged is their ability to build circulation.



The MacKinnon file



1975 Sounds, writer

1976 New Musical Express, writer

1981 Times Educational Supplement, sub-editor

1981 Time Out, chief sub-editor

1984 Time Out, deputy editor

1987 Granta, managing editor

1990 GQ, deputy editor

1995 GQ, editor



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