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
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
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