My first impression of Greg Williams, the new editor of Arena, is
very Ab Fab. Over the phone, arranging the interview for this profile, a
slightly gravelly voice apologises for feeling lacklustre after a bash
thrown by Hermes.
So waiting in the old Wagadon offices, now owned by Arena’s new parent
company, Emap Metro, I expect someone clad in Prada and Helmut Lang to
sweep into the reception. Instead, a dark, neat figure wearing a check
button-down shirt greets me politely and leads me to an office where a
few ghosts from the past reside.
The last time I sat in this office, I watched the dramatic entrance of
Frank’s launch editor, Tina Gaudoin, with doctor in tow, apologising for
a raging fever during an equally feverish launch period.
Mercifully, Williams is a down-to-earth, approachable bloke who isn’t so
achingly hip that I want to disappear inside my large, shapeless
But with Williams there is more than meets the eye. When he’s not been
writing and editing magazines, he has penned two novels, Diamond Geezers
and Football Crazy. And the former, which a critic once described as
’Minder with knobs on’, is about to go into film production.
So, will the uphill task of leading Arena back into circulation growth
interfere with Williams’ novel writing? ’I will write another book,’
Williams muses. ’But whether I will do it while editing Arena is another
He realises, however, that there is much to occupy him at Arena. The
men’s style magazine, which was the first of its kind when it launched
12 years ago, is floundering in a now crowded marketplace where every
magazine appears alike. In the last ABC audit period, Arena scraped
46,777 copies, down 28 per cent year on year.
Williams regards Emap Metro as Arena’s knight in shining armour. He
says: ’We’ve had no marketing and no business strategy. Emap Metro
buying us is the best thing that could have happened for Arena because
we have an incredibly prestigious magazine, with creative impulse, owned
by a big publisher who is incredibly up for turning it around and giving
it all the support we need.’
Paul Keenan, managing director of Arena, likes Williams’ perception of
where the magazine should go. Keenan says: ’He had the most
understanding vision for the magazine, which was uncannily like the
vision we outlined prior to the acquisition. He’s a clear,
straightforward thinker who has a good track record of converting
thought into action.’
Words such as ’creative’, ’prestigious’ and ’world’s best photographers’
fall regularly from Williams’ lips during the interview, and I joke that
perhaps he should parade a few placades to reinforce his points. Luckily
he has a sense of humour.
Williams planned to emulate the London warehouse music scene in Paris
after university, but found that the French capital was less than
receptive to underground music. His misery ended when his flatmate came
across a job ad for an editorial assistant on Blitz, the less trendy
version of The Face, and so his career in magazines began.
After three years on Blitz, he moved to Esquire where he eventually
became the commissioning editor under the editorship of Rosie Boycott.
He left shortly after Boycott to become deputy editor of Arena, but not
before having a memorable encounter with Terry Mansfield, the managing
director of the National Magazine Company.
’I remember Terry summoning me in and saying, ’You are leaving a luxury
cruise liner to work on a pedalo’. Recently I wanted to call him and
say, ’That pedalo has become a battle cruiser’.’
Boycott, who is now editor of The Express, believes that Williams’
tenacity and editorial skills will serve him well at Arena. She says:
’He’s a good writer and a good editor. He’s wonderful to work with and
has a good eye for a story. He can sniff out a trend very well, which
will stand him in good stead at Arena.’
The issue of Arena which goes on sale this week is Williams’ baby.
Following the sudden departure of the old editor, Ekow Eshun, Williams
became acting editor and had to quickly assume control. He promises that
there will be no front covers of TV babes and women in bras. The
magazine will return to its original values of style and innovation,
taking back disenchanted readers who may have emigrated to the likes of
And, in March, the magazine is set for a relaunch with a proper
marketing budget and a significant redesign.
Williams says: ’We will change the logo, the typefaces and bring in more
heavyweight writers. There will be a modernisation and freshness to the
Williams likes a good fight, which is just as well because he’s got a
tough bout ahead of him.
’I challenge any magazine to produce the slick and aspirational
environment we will be producing in Arena,’ he declares.
And although he doesn’t look like a bruiser, there’s evidently a mental
THE WILLIAMS FILE
Blitz, editorial assistant
Esquire, commissioning editor
Arena, deputy editor