[The Daily Mail] - The lads' mag I edited turned a generation on to porn - and now I'm a father I bitterly regret it: A remarkable confession from the longest-serving editor of Loaded
[Excerpt] - The day that summed up the sheer ludicrousness of what it meant to be the editor of Loaded, the most notorious ‘lads’ mag’ of all time, is one etched on my memory. It was January 2004, and my team had been through our rivals’ magazines doing a ‘nipple count’ — meticulously tallying the number of bare nipples that appeared in one issue.
To our dismay, we’d been trumped by Maxim, who’d weighed in with a hefty 83 (which included one bare-chested man, but we let them have that). ‘Damn, they beat us this month,’ I announced. ‘What are we going to do about it?’ When one wag responded, ‘Why don’t we print 100 pairs of boobs, over six pages, in glorious close-up?’ we all whooped with delight and reported to the pub to celebrate.
So it was that we did a ‘We Love Boobs’ special, which notched up a then-record (although by today’s standards relatively tame) 200 nipples. As an extra layer of schoolboy comedy, we decided to caption each picture with a jokey term for breasts. From ‘aardvarks’ to ‘Zeppelins’, we had it covered.
Sitting around a boardroom table with six other university-educated men trying to think up 100 comedy words for breasts summed up just how low British men’s magazines had sunk. It was an intellectual low-water mark, but we’d spent a lot of time and money talking to our readers in research groups, and they’d repeatedly said Loaded’s winning formula should be ‘more birds, less words’.
The average Loaded reader — largely white, working class, 20-something blokes — had a simple palate, so we gave them what they wanted. To me, it was harmless fun, dictated by market forces. What’s more, I was paid more money than I’d ever earned in my life to do it. I’d always dreamed of editing Loaded and vowed to do whatever it took to stay there. I never stopped to consider issues like the crass sexualisation of women. Moral naysayers were party poopers, and if they attacked me, I’d attack them back — harder.
We were under massive pressure to sell magazines to keep our shareholders happy. We knew sex sold, so our thinking was: why not make Loaded a frenzied, Harrods-sale of nudity? It was knowingly mindless, and for a while it was fun — and extremely successful.
When our We Love Boobs issue (which had George Best’s wife, Alex, as the cover star) hit the news stands, our readers bombarded us with thank you letters and sales soared.
A few months later, I was crowned New Editor of the Year by my company and my bosses popped more corks than the Queen’s Jubilee sommelier.
Back then, it never once occurred to me that we were objectifying women or doing any harm. I fiercely denied that Loaded was a ‘gateway’ to harder pornographic magazines. It was in my own interests to do so. If we were classified as ‘top shelf’, we’d have been put in opaque plastic bags like the pornographic magazines, which would have been commercial suicide.
But such thoughts came home to roost five years later in 2009, when I finally grew up and became a father. It had such an effect on me and changed my views so forcibly that within a year I’d quit a dream job that, for me, had become a moral nightmare.
When I look back now, I see we were severely pushing the envelope of what was considered decent. We were normalising soft porn, and in so doing we must have made it more acceptable for young men to dive into the murky waters of harder stuff on the internet. And, for that, I have a haunting sense of regret.
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