Media Headliner: Widening Tatler's appeal beyond the horsey set

Catherine Ostler, the Tatler editor, says the 300-year-old title can keep its essence and ride the recession.

Of the glamorous faces peering from the magazine shelves this month, one is sure to stand out, mainly because she also moonlights as the cover girl on postage stamps.

The Queen "made sense" as the cover star for the 300th anniversary issue of Tatler magazine, the editor, Catherine Ostler, says.

In fact, Elizabeth II has been the most frequent of the magazine's cover stars, as Ostler found out for herself while wading through the title's archives as part of her research for the issue.

"We have the most beautiful photos of her and Princess Margaret - remember when they used to wear those matching coats?" Ostler enthuses. "There are ones of her looking so beautiful and Princess Margaret looking like a fox."

Ostler, who has been the editor of the Conde Nast title since February, when she replaced Geordie Greig, who left to edit the London Evening Standard, maintains she never had a game plan to get the top job. Nonetheless, her background couldn't be more suited to a title generally perceived as a "toff's bible".

Ostler attended Cheltenham Ladies' College and read English at St Hilda's College Oxford, before joining Tatler on work experience. She eventually became the magazine's features editor, before moving to The Mail On Sunday and then editing titles including The Times' Weekend section. She then edited the Standard's ES magazine; Nicolas Coleridge, the managing director of Conde Nast, says Ostler described her time at ES as a "five-year job application to Vogue House (where Tatler has its offices)". Ostler is also married to the general manager of Conde Nast, Albert Read.

Mercifully, Ostler does not speak as if she was gargling marbles; nor is she sporting a twin-set. She is fashionably dressed, but not excessively groomed, and her manner is endearingly informal. Her desk is weighed down with a mountain of papers and she seems slightly harried. After coming from a weekly background at ES, Ostler confesses the new deadlines take some getting used to. "My weakness is I expect things to be done more quickly than they realistically should be done on a monthly."

She concedes that Tatler, littered with double- and, indeed, triple-barrelled names no-one outside of the polo set has heard of, is hardly gritty realism. She likes it to be "very glamorous", but is insistent that, far from being stuffy or elitist, there is a mischievousness and a broad mix of people at the heart of Tatler.

Ostler believes the title has become much more meritocratic over the years, and she is intent on widening Tatler's social circle. The anniversary issue illustrates this with a host of writers and artists such as Sam Taylor-Wood. People, Ostler says, "of extreme talent made not born". But Eugenie and Beatrice needn't throw a tantrum just yet. There will always be room for the horsey set. "Those sorts of girls still work in Tatler, but it has to be much broader than that," Ostler says. "I don't want it to feel too narrow a social world."

She also likes to credit the title with a sense of humour. Tatler's "most invited" list, which has attracted the ire of certain sections of the press for its overt snobbery, is meant as a joke, as a wind-up to generate publicity. Yet people removed from the list often don't see the funny side either, and have been known to phone up the magazine to register their fury.

Tatler's covers have been renowned for their eccentricity over the years (Miss Piggy once featured in the 80s), and Ostler, who admits to an obsession with getting animals on the front, looks set to continue that tradition. A shoot for the June edition, featuring Elizabeth Hurley and a goat, almost descended into farce, but this hasn't put her off. "That goat turned round and pulled off a huge chunk of Hurley's hair. We were horrified. But, it turned out to be a hair piece."

The advertising in the 300th anniversary issue (the title's biggest ever) is almost as captivating as the editorial content. There's a birthday message from Donatella Versace and a triple gatefold Tiffany ad. And Fortnum & Mason, a Tatler advertiser for 100 years, is even selling a special "Tatler tea". It's a luxury love-in. Hardly surprising when you consider typical Tatler readers have homes that are worth five times the national average, and a quarter have a personal stockbroker.

Even so, they are not immune to the recession, and the title's circulation has dropped 5.6 per cent to 85,064. But Ostler is confident of the magazine's resilience. "You can have recessions, but people still want it. Otherwise there wouldn't be a title in the same spirit that is so old," she argues.

Veronica Wadley, Ostler's former boss at the Evening Standard, says she brings "the rigour of an experienced newspaper journalist" to the magazine, and inspires loyalty because she is demanding of staff.

Having a "news gene" as well as being sophisticated sets Tatler apart from other women's glossies, according to Ostler. She no longer sees erstwhile enemy Harper's Bazaar as a rival. "They've gone down a pure fashion route, and we are as much about people as fashion."

The magazine's durability will be ensured, Ostler believes, if it retains the essence that has survived since its very first issue, published in 1709. "If you look at the first issue, it's funny and well written with comment and gossip, and that is just eternally fascinating, come what may," she says.

THE LOWDOWN

Age: Undisclosed

Lives: Brook Green

Family: Married with three children, aged six, four and two

Last book read: The Misogynist by Piers Paul Read - an absolutely brilliant, though excruciating in parts, novel by my father-in-law. I read it in draft as it's out next year

Must-have item: Nespresso coffee-maker

Motto: "If you can't get to the end, what will the readers think?"

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