MEDIA: HEADLINER; Glitz and glamour man tests his mettle in the top job at OK!

Claire Beale finds out how Richard Barber suits the role of making OK! weekly

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

Magazine Editors.

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

finding out.

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


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