FAIRY TALE OF NEW YORK

She’s the Brit who be­came one of Amer­ica’s most suc­cess­ful mag­a­zine ed­i­tors. Me­dia queen Tina Brown shares the se­crets of her suc­cess and urges us all to em­brace new chal­lenges

Good Housekeeping (UK) - - Contents - WORDS JACKIE BROWN

Mag­a­zine editor Tina Brown’s suc­cess story

Tina Brown is de­scrib­ing her New York apart­ment. ‘We live in a triplex – it’s a three-floor apart­ment, which is a bit like be­ing in a house in­side an apart­ment. We have a gar­den, which is a lovely and un­usual thing. Now the chil­dren have moved out, we may down­size. I don’t need six bed­rooms.’

I’m not a real-es­tate ex­pert, but it sounds an im­pres­sive place to call home. But then I should hardly be sur­prised. Tina Brown is, af­ter all, the Bri­tish woman who took Man­hat­tan. She ar­rived in 1984 to take over the ed­i­tor­ship of Van­ity Fair. At the time, she was 30 and had al­ready trans­formed the for­tunes of Bri­tish so­ci­ety mag­a­zine Tatler.

Back then, I was a stu­dent jour­nal­ist and fas­ci­nated by her glam­orous rise. De­ter­mined to se­cure an interview for my uni­ver­sity pa­per, I bom­barded her of­fice for weeks. I didn’t get past a very po­lite PA who con­stantly told me she was in meet­ings.

It felt like a snub at the time. But it turns out that Tina had other, more press­ing, pri­or­i­ties, as I found out when I read her new book, The Van­ity Fair Diaries, based on the jour­nals she kept at the time.

Ini­tially, her great­est chal­lenge was to con­vince her bosses to keep the ti­tle open. ‘It was dy­ing. I was the third editor in 10 months,’ she says. ‘It really was on its last gasp, which is, in some ways, the best way to be be­cause where could it go but up? If I had failed, no­body would have said it was my fault.’

No­body ex­pected it to suc­ceed – ex­cept Tina. She trans­formed the con­tent into an ir­re­sistible mix of celebrity and glam­orous, newsy ex­clu­sives. She was the first per­son to write about the break­down of Princess Diana’s mar­riage. And who could for­get the glo­ri­ous cover im­age of a naked, preg­nant Demi Moore, taken by An­nie Lei­bovitz? The cir­cu­la­tion climbed from 200,000 to 1.2 mil­lion while she was editor.

Now 64, she found it a joy to re­visit that golden pe­riod of her life for the book. ‘When I delved into my old diaries, it really did trans­port me back. It was fun to be the me of then,’ she says. ‘I was com­pletely driven. I dived into this wildly so­cial black-tie New York in the Rea­gan era. What stuns me when I look back is how so­cial that pe­riod was. It was a black-tie din­ner every night. Peo­ple had din­ner par­ties in their homes in black ties.’

Part of Tina’s suc­cess was tied in with her

skills as a net­worker. She is fa­mous for the par­ties she throws along with her jour­nal­ist hus­band, Sir Harry Evans. ‘I have al­ways loved giv­ing par­ties and to get ev­ery­one in, I hire a mov­ing van, stick the fur­ni­ture in, and it waits and then comes back when the guests have gone.’

So, 33 years af­ter I first asked for an interview, we fi­nally meet at Clive­den Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val. She speaks with a slight transat­lantic twang, a re­minder that Amer­ica has been her home for three decades. In 2005, she be­came an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen.

It’s clear she thrives on the can-do at­ti­tude of New York. She grew up in Lit­tle Mar­low and was ex­pelled from three schools for stag­ing var­i­ous re­bel­lions, be­fore go­ing on to Ox­ford Uni­ver­sity, where she first made a name for her­self. Aged 22, she met Harry, then 47 and editor of The

Sun­day Times. He was mar­ried at the time, but they ended up mov­ing to Amer­ica to­gether, mar­ry­ing and hav­ing two chil­dren.

‘We’re real soul­mates,’ she says. ‘We are joined by a pas­sion­ate love of jour­nal­ism, ideas, writ­ing.’

She talks proudly of their chil­dren. ‘My daugh­ter works at Vice Me­dia [a web­site]. My son has Asperger’s and he has done very well. He works in a small NGO, lives on his own and goes to work and has a very good life.’

Sir Harry is now 89, but the age dif­fer­ence doesn’t trou­ble her. ‘He is so vi­brant, I still say to Harry to slow down be­cause he is walk­ing so fast ahead of me. We were at a din­ner a year or two ago, and in his usual habit, he speeds out, tak­ing four steps at a time. I was try­ing to catch up with him in my long dress and heels and I went wham, fell over on the way out. I said to him, “It’s be­cause of you – you shoot out so fast!’”

In her book, she writes about not be­ing able to re­sist a new op­por­tu­nity, and her ca­reer has been re­mark­able for carv­ing out new chal­lenges. Af­ter Van­ity Fair, she had fur­ther suc­cess edit­ing The New Yorker be­fore be­ing lured away to take charge of

Talk mag­a­zine. The man who con­vinced her to take the plunge was the now-dis­graced film pro­ducer Har­vey We­in­stein.

Tina has ter­ri­ble mem­o­ries of work­ing for him. ‘It was dis­as­trously dif­fi­cult. It was a huge mis­take to give up The New Yorker, but I did it for good rea­sons. I’d been there for seven years and I was frus­trated by a de­sire to turn a mag­a­zine into some­thing more than a mag­a­zine. I wanted it to be a TV show. Har­vey could see that. It was the right idea but he was the wrong part­ner be­cause of the vol­canic tem­per­a­ment.’

But Tina is not one to waste time on re­grets, say­ing it’s im­por­tant to look for new chal­lenges, and midlife is a good time to em­brace change. ‘New acts are re­fresh­ing. It is a heady mo­ment where your kids are fi­nally out of the house. Much as I miss my kids, there is a real sense of, “Wow, this is me time.” You can travel, you can de­cide where you are go­ing to put your re­sources. Women have a lot of skills at the end of rais­ing fam­i­lies, they have all those executive skills. I think it is im­por­tant to ask your­self, “What do I get the most gen­uine sat­is­fac­tion out of? What are my skills? What can I do?” Then go af­ter some­thing you really want.’

Her en­er­gies are fo­cused on Women In The World, live events that high­light the global ad­vance­ment of women and girls. She launched it in New York in 2010 with Meryl Streep and events have been held all over the world, in­clud­ing in the UK.

Among those who reg­u­larly ap­pear at the events is her friend Hil­lary Clin­ton, and she gives an in­sight into the Clin­ton mar­riage. ‘She and Bill have an amaz­ing re­la­tion­ship. You only have to see them to­gether to see it is a real love af­fair. They are soul­mates, they talk four times a day. They have so much in com­mon, there is so much to laugh [about] and share, and they do. How­ever, he was a wom­an­iser. That is the thing she has had to make her peace with.

‘I think what you make your peace with in a mar­riage is en­tirely your busi­ness. But there are many peo­ple who will never for­give her for mak­ing peace with that.’

Our time is up and Tina is off to pre­pare for a talk on The Van­ity Fair Diaries. She is a busy woman with a packed sched­ule.

The book has been op­tioned for TV and scripts are be­ing worked on. So who would she like to play her? ‘I don’t mind, as long as they have a sense of hu­mour. That is what has car­ried me through.’ But I think it is more about her in­cred­i­ble en­ergy. I like to think of her or­gan­is­ing her next cock­tail party, and ar­rang­ing for the van to drive her fur­ni­ture around Man­hat­tan while she net­works and en­ter­tains.

◆ The Van­ity Fair Diaries by Tina Brown is avail­able now

‘I was com­pletely driven. I dived into this wildly so­cial black-tie New York’

Tina Brown: ‘New acts are re­fresh­ing. Go af­ter some­thing you really want’

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