Claire Beale finds out how Richard Barber suits the role of making OK!
‘I was put on this planet to edit OK!,’ Richard Barber gushes, all warm,
woolly pully and dimples. The man whose editorship of magazines such as
Woman’s World, Woman’s Realm and Woman helped make our mothers what they
are, is back with a vengeance. OK! is going weekly next year.
And if this self-confessed star spotter needed any encouragement in his
mission to allow us mere mortals a regular peep at the lives of the
famous, then he received it last week. Barber was voted editor of the
year, general interest magazines (non-weekly), by the British Society of
Now armed with the glory of beating off Loaded and Maxim for the BSME
prize, Barber has hung up the freelance cap that he has been wearing for
the past five years and has signed up to Northern and Shell, OK!’s
publishers, full time. And he’s loving every minute of it.
Star-struck and sugary profiles are the plummy 48-year-old’s forte, and
he isn’t ashamed to admit it. ‘Showbiz has always been my life,’ Barber
confesses. He’s been at it for more than a quarter of a century and he
still seems bowled over by anyone who’s even sniffed an Equity card. In
a world where some of us like to pretend we’re frosted with stardust,
Barber’s wide-eyed deference for the real thing is quite refreshing.
It’s easy to see why the bright stars and little twinkles enjoy giving
Barber a peek into their lives. He’s a consummate professional with a
contact book full of rent-a-quotes. But, more importantly, he’s a safe
pair of hands. He is the publishing equivalent of Nicky Clarke, not so
much barber as ladies hairdresser - there to groom your public image as
well as listen to your problems and offer a sympathetic ear.
He’s not going to let you leave the salon with an ugly profile when you
went in for pretty prose. He wants you to look your best because, after
all, that’s what the public (or at least the readers of OK!) want. ‘I
won’t write puffs,’ Barber is adamant. ‘But celebrities feel that with
OK! they can control the damage limitation.’
Barber certainly has a reverence for the cult of the celebrity and OK!
is his altar. If he has a knife, it is rarely unsheathed. ‘The famous
are different. I’m not interested in real life and real problems - we
can all get that at home - I like the superficial glamour of showbiz.’
So what if OK!’s glamour is less diamond, more cubic zircona and its
galaxy of stars is a little closer to home. Minor soap stars are its
bread and marg but this is glamour for the Brits, and we’re clearly
happy with it. OK! now sells around 200,000 copies a month and is going
weekly on 15 March 1996.
And while he may enjoy slopping a heavy gloss over life, Barber doesn’t
pretend to anything more high-minded. ‘I adore the mainstream. The C1C2,
down-the-high-street, mass-market stuff - not down-market, just
ordinary.’ Not that Barber falls into this category himself. Fey and
gentle, Barber’s upbringing was ‘fairly determinedly middle-class’. He
grew up in Bromley, went to the same public school as his father (who
was chief of a magazine distribution company) and went to art school.
And even now he describes his life as fairly ordinary. He’s no wannabe,
he says. He may peep under the skirts of stardom, but is more than happy
to remain a voyeur, able to retire to the domesticity of his family home
in Islington with his lecturer wife and their three children. It’s not
that his ego gets off on the glamour of it all, it is more that he
wonders, like the rest of us, ‘what are they really like?’ and enjoys
This is his motivation. And through his editorships of Look Now, IPC’s
women’s magazines, TV Times at its duopoly height, the Clothes Show,
Woolworth’s Good Idea customer magazine, and Northern and Shell’s other
mainstream monthly, Chic, Barber has proved himself a reliable leader.
Yet some feel that Barber remains untested in the choppy waters of a
cut-throat market. He was in women’s weeklies when women’s weeklies were
flourishing. He edited TV Times at its peak, and then stepped down
because of the fierce battle signalled by the end of the listings
duopoly. Taking OK! weekly right up against Hello should prove his
mettle, or not, once and for all, observers say.
But if OK! proves successful as a weekly, we’re sure to be seeing more
of Richard Barber (he already rivals Russell Grant as a star gazer on TV
and radio). And he concludes our interview by informing me that Des
O’Connor has personally requested to be interviewed by him for OK!.
Clearly some of that stardust has already rubbed off on Barber himself.
The Barber file
1978 Look Now, editor
1980 Woman’s World, editor
1982 Woman’s Realm, editor
1984 Woman, editor
1988 TV Times, editor
1995 OK!, editor