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