‘I realised I had to sprint to the top’
Magazine editor Farrah Storr says she knows her decision means she’s ‘almost certain to die alone’. By Angela Wintle
Farrah Storr, 39, is the award-winning editorin-chief of Cosmopolitan, which she took over in 2015 and whose circulation she increased by 59pc. Before that, she was launch editor of Women’s Health. She lives in Kent with her husband, the journalist and novelist Will Storr.
How did your childhood influence your attitude to money?
My father brought up my siblings and me to believe that money had to be spent on education. He moved to the UK when he was 17, starting out as a greengrocer and ending up as a property developer. Despite being a self-made man, he was aware that a good education was vital for his own children’s success, so money was never lavished on holidays or fripperies.
Like most Asian fathers, he believed there were only three legitimate career options – doctor, lawyer or engineer – or else become a failure. Working as a journalist didn’t enter into the equation – and I do understand that. I always advise aspiring writers not to go into journalism for the money because they’ll be bitterly disappointed.
What was your first job?
My first proper job was as a Saturday shop assistant at the women’s clothing store Jigsaw in central Manchester. I was paid about £4 an hour and spent every penny in the shop. I was the best dressed 16-year-old in Salford.
Why did you choose journalism?
It came down to a choice between pragmatism and passion, and passion won. My sister trod the “safe” career path that my father had set out for her and became a solicitor, despite hankering after a job in magazines.
When she entered a competition run by More magazine in the Nineties and won a date with a male model, she realised there was an untapped world of opportunity. She took a job as a junior magazine writer for £14,000 a year. Despite her meagre income, it was the happiest I’d ever seen her and, three years later, she became editor. It gave me hope that I could do the same.
How did you break into magazine journalism?
My first job, aged 24, was as a features assistant on Woman & Home in 2004, on roughly £23,000 a year. It was a lot of money back then and, sadly, still constitutes a lot for that sort of position.
To attract the brightest brains and strongest voices, the industry should reward them properly. My husband and I always laugh that if we’d been doing our jobs on Eighties rates we’d own a town house in Islington. As it is, we live in a field in Kent. It’s a very nice field, but it’s a long way from the office.
How did you climb the career ladder?
I moved around a lot. At the beginning, I did this to increase my earnings – I started in journalism quite late and realised I needed to sprint to the top. I stayed at Woman & Home about 18 months before getting a job as a features writer on Good Housekeeping, on around £25,000 a year. A year later, I moved to the now defunct
Eve magazine as a senior writer on £26,000 and, six months later, moved to Glamour as deputy features editor on £28,000. They were small increases, but I was edging forwards.
How did you become one of Britain’s youngest women’s magazine editors?
I launched Women’s Health when I was 33. It sounds impressive, but they took a chance on me (I was an unproven editor) and I took a chance on them because the magazine had to sell 100,000 copies from launch.
I worked 14-hour days and was so sleep deprived that I nodded off over my 33rd birthday dinner. My salary was £58,000 – way below the market rate for an editor – but I knew it would rise if I proved my worth. When I was offered a more lucrative job in America, the magazine offered me a significant pay rise to stay.
What financial challenges do women face in journalism?
This isn’t a gender issue. Journalists across the board face huge financial pressures. Salaries are stagnating, freelance rates are shrinking, anyone and everyone is a “content producer” who will write for free.
People talk about increasing diversity in the media and, for me, social mobility is a fundamental part of that. Most of the creative industries require you to be London-based, but if you’re a kid from a small backwater whose parents are struggling to pay the mortgage, how can you possibly afford the necessary work experience or survive on the low starting salaries? That’s why Cosmopolitan now offers highly subsidised housing to young professionals who need to live in the capital.
What are your thoughts on the gender pay gap?
Women’s magazines are one of the few sectors where women probably earn more than men, so sometimes it feels a bit rich of me to bemoan the pay gap in my industry. The big unspoken issue is the “motherhood pay gap”. That’s when the gap becomes a gulf.
I’ve never assumed there’s some evil patriarchy conspiring to pay me less than a man for the same job. It’s not helpful. Nevertheless, I’ve always been very aware that my decision not to have children meant I was far less likely to face the pay gap that many women face in their 30s.
Life is about sacrifices. I sacrificed having a family because neither I nor my husband were prepared to give up our careers. I certainly couldn’t do the hours I do if I had children. Maybe that’s foolish, and we’ll almost certainly die alone, but that’s my choice. It’s probably one of the reasons I have a relatively well-paid position now.
‘I started my career quite late so I realised I needed to sprint to the top’
Are you a generous tipper?
Yes, because money, like sex, is actually better when it’s given rather than received.
Farrah Storr’s new book, The Discomfort Zone: How to Get What You Want by Living Fearlessly, is out now (Piatkus, £13.99)
‘My father believed there were only three legitimate career options – doctor, lawyer or engineer. Otherwise you would be a failure’