Campaign's office copy always goes missing. Leave it on your desk
and someone will nick it and you'll have to go looking for it in one of
the toilet cubicles or out by the service lift where people go for sly
fags. Not so long ago it was The Sun. For years, in fact, it's been The
Sun, although The Mirror has drifted in and out of demand. Not these
days. Now it's the Daily Star.
It's a situation that is increasingly reflected in the ABC figure. Its
average daily sale for September was 632,438 - up 14 per cent year on
year. It's the only newspaper in the market growing at a double-digit
rate. The Star is on fire and its editor, Peter Hill, is taking the
plaudits. So, what's the secret?
"There is no secret," Hill replies in that disarmingly modest way that
he has. "We just produce papers that people enjoy. We haven't forgotten
people like a laugh."
That trademark modesty is the first thing that strikes you about
This isn't a flamboyant egotist, a media luvvie or a neurotic bundle of
insecurities. He oozes good sense and reasonableness. You're almost
tempted to think you're being confronted with something very
But that would be a mistake. A big mistake. He's a million miles away
from the culture of scoops and epic liquid lunches that comprised the
old school of El Vino's in Fleet Street. This is a very modern master
Perhaps paradoxically, given that periods of international crisis are
supposed to be good for newspapers majoring in ponderously weighty
journalism, the current climate has been seemingly ideal for the Star.
It has emerged as the newspaper with the strongest personality and the
most confident character. It's a cheeky sort of character, a younger
version of the cheeky chappie that was The Sun circa 1987. The Star is
arguably cheekier, far more irreverent and infinitely less
"People forget that the other tabloid papers had been taking themselves
very seriously indeed, even before 11 September," Hill points out.
"They've been behaving very pompously, forgetting - or rejecting - the
only reasons for their success in the past. They are also boring
Hill has implemented a simple but effective game plan on what, after
all, are modest resources. His greatest recent masterstroke was luring
Brian Woolnough, easily the best football writer around these days, from
The Sun. And having sewn things up at the back, in classic fashion the
paper went for twin strikers up front. Jordan's.
One media buyer argues that this isn't rocket science: "He's looked at a
few magazines, hasn't he? And he's worked out what motivates young men.
Surprise, surprise, it's half-naked women and sport. It's a daily FHM or
Fair cop? Not at all, Hill insists. The lads' magazines have had their
day, he argues - they've lost their relevance or ability to shock. Their
tone, too has become outdated. In this respect, Hill reckons he has
detected and plugged into a subtle shift in attitudes - attitudes, in
particular, to celebrity.
"People used to think of celebrities as distant and unreachable," he
says. "Now that's no longer the case. These days people are more likely
to be interested in celebrities, especially with all these Big
Brother-type programmes around. We're making that attitude relevant to a
spectrum of people. People in younger age groups neither know nor care
about politicians. They have become totally irrelevant. So too is the
Listening to this, you're reminded of some of the clippings that draw
attention to the fact that Hill once studied philosophy and that he
tends to bring a historical perspective to many things.
Which is unique in this business, isn't it? Allan Rich, the chairman of
the Star's media agency, MediaCom, reckons so: "He's not precious or
pretentious. What you see is what you get. His unflappability builds
confidence around him."
But is this thoughtful leader happy to be regarded as an intellectual
among editors? Hill laughs. "I don't regard myself as an intellectual,"
he states. "I do read a great deal but so what? Tabloid newspapers are
not produced by stupid people, neither are they produced for stupid
people. Tabloid readers are very sharp."