Heat Editor Julian Linley
PUBLISHED: 23:34 28 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:34 20 February 2013
He might be a big cheese in the celebrity world, but as Katie Jarvis finds out, Julian Linley is just as much at home in the cotswold village where his dog Buster is the famous face of the family. Photography by Mark Fairhurst
"Once a month, as I turn the key in the front door after a mental day at the office, there among the bills, takeaway flyers and catalogues for people who haven't lived in my flat since 1923, lies my guilty little secret in its see-through wrapper: Cotswold Life magazine. Sigh."
Julian Linley, The Independent
Blackmail isn't a noble art, admittedly. But a girl has to make a living - and this is too good an opportunity to pass by. I mean, what would Julian Linley - editor of celebrity, gossipy, do-you-think-Kelly-knows-her-dress-is-see-through? Heat magazine - pay me to keep quiet? He's got to be worth a bob or two - lives in Bloomsbury; best little black book in the country; one of the influential media's most influential figures.
Yet what do his sassy city colleagues know of his secret other life? They see him rubbing shoulders with the stars at the BRITs - Mika, McCartney, Kylie - then blagging his way into the discreet celebrity parties that follow. They see a snap decision-maker - "Go with the picture of JLo as a sumo"; a man who knows how to turn his readers - but certainly not his oven - on.
But where does he go at weekends? Aha! That's the question... and I know the answer. Because I've seen him, loved up with Buster, in his country retreat. In torn jeans and scruffy sneakers; wearing glasses ('The Picture He Didn't Want You To See', surely?). The only fly in the ointment - the only fatal flaw in my dastardly plan - is this: Julian Linley doesn't seem to care who knows about his alter ego. This Cotswold boy, who spends his weekdays in charge of one of the UK's hottest magazines, thinks the Cotswolds are pretty cool themselves.
Are local people aware of what he does? "It's funny," he grins, flopping in the kitchen of his parents' home in the tiny village of Draycott. "When I go out walking the dog, which is one of the highlights of coming home, people I pass will stop and say, 'Is that Buster?' He's much better known than I am." Which obviously pleases them both.
Old school friends hang out of battered cars and yell 'Hello' because he's Julian, old boy of Chipping Campden comprehensive. "No one was as surprised as I was that I had succeeded. But people assumed I wouldn't do well because I was very, very average," he says (or claims, at any rate.)
Either Julian Linley undergoes an extraordinary transformation the minute he steps off the train at Moreton-in-Marsh - or top magazine editors aren't quite as you picture them. Got to be one of the two. You'd think the man who emblazons across a front cover Britney's 'Yo-Yo tummy' and Sarah's shrunken boobs (in a 'Surprise beach bodies' special) would be cruel and uncaring. But he's not. He has a gentle manner, a ready laugh, and an air of real decency. And what that's coupled with is an ability to see - and love - the celebrity world for what it is: so much smoke and mirrors.
"What was - and is - Heat's success is that we lifted that veil away: even though a celebrity might be saying 'Here is my home; look at my home', it's still a very controlled environment. This is how they want to be seen.
"The thing I've always found fascinating about pictures is the Glade air freshener they've forgotten about on the shelf behind them. Heat is all about humour. It's meant to be light-hearted fun; escapism."
He took over the hot seat in June from Mark Frith, who left to write his book, The Celeb Diaries - Tears, Tantrums and Excess, a blow-by-blow account of some of the celebrities he's had dealings with, such as the Beckhams, Amy Winehouse and Take That. Julian - who'd been editing the magazine's website heatworld.com and, prior to that, been deputy editor of Heat - snatched the top job from a stellar cast of applicants. He has definite ideas about where he wants to take the magazine - but he's also committed to keeping its current identity intact. Nor will he take it down market.
"I know where the readers' borders are. I treat every story and every picture individually and, if I feel uncomfortable about something, I won't print it."
Um - OK; but those borders are reasonably wide, aren't they? I mean, we saw, let's just say rather too much (anatomically-speaking) of Kelly Osbourne's boyfriend Luke Worrell in a recent issue.
What would Julian Linley reject as being unsuitable for Heat?
"Something I'm really clear about is that celebrities invade their own privacy on a daily basis when it suits them. There are times when they want to turn the taps on and off. But they can't engage their audience's interest and then expect them not to be interested the following day.
"The people who don't choose that are their children. I often will look at sets of pictures of celebrities with their children and, if those kids look anything other than happy to have their photograph taken, I won't use the picture - because it just feels wrong."
He's happy to sit here, in his parents' rather beautiful house (the oldest in Draycott), and talk about Heat... about the time James Corden of Gavin and Stacey-fame, initially turned down an offer to appear in the magazine. "He said, 'Do you know what? I'd really love to - but I'm busy and just haven't got the time'. And then we revealed we wanted to dress him up as David Beckham in those Armani pants adverts - and straight away he said, 'I'm doing it!'." Or about how much Justin and Alan from the Sunday Night Project loved dressing up as Abba. "Because we're really famous for dressing people up and recreating things really well, celebrities can't wait when it's their turn to do something. We very rarely have people say 'no' to us."
But as much as Cotswold Life might want to talk about Heat, Julian Linley wants to talk about Cotswold life - his Cotswold life. He doesn't want to gossip about whether or not Sarah Jessica Parker's husband is having an affair, but rather that Blockley's new village-run shop is doing so well. "If I was in London, I'd probably be huffing and puffing about the fact that there were 13 people in front of me - come on! But what was so lovely was that the back door of the shop was propped open and you could see straight through to the churchyard behind it. It really was a postcard moment - but a real one, not a Daylesford one where someone's placed lavender in a bucket on a stool in the doorway. It reminded me of being a kid and what it would be like queuing up in butcher's on a Saturday." He's sincere, warm and genuine. His family, quite obviously, means the world to him. And he even loves Cotswold Life magazine itself (well, that's a given, surely): "My mum always knew to save it for me. Then, two years ago she started buying it for me as a Christmas present so I get it delivered to my door now."
He grew up in Draycott, near Moreton-in-Marsh, surrounded by a close-knit family. It was, he says, a Just William childhood: "In all my memories, I appear to be running through a meadow." At Christmas, the house would be packed, either with relations or the waifs and strays he and his siblings would bring home.
After primary school in Blockley, he went on to the comprehensive in Chipping Campden where, he says, he stood out like a sore thumb. Not sporty, not academic, he wore his hair long and spent his time people-watching and chatting with friends. "It's got a very good reputation now, but when I was at the school, it wasn't particularly good at embracing people who didn't fit the mold.
"A great example was my 'A' levels. I got the fourth highest results in my year, and they invited me - and the three girls who came above me - to speech day. But when it came to it, they read out the other three names and missed out mine. So even though I'd been asked to go along, I wasn't invited to go on stage because I didn't represent what they wanted the school to represent."
But there were saving graces - two, in fact, and both English teachers: Miss Jakes and Miss Barker.
"I think Miss Barker realised I wasn't quite a Chipping Campden boy, and she wanted to show me there was more to English than was on the syllabus. So she took me off to Hay-on-Wye Literature Festival, where she introduced me to Fay Weldon. I ended up having this amazing conversation with Fay, who was fantastic. I don't think she could quite believe she was talking to a 17-year-old boy who'd come to see her do a reading." The writer ended up giving Julian her phone number, and they spoke for an hour-and-a-half that evening. The experience was a revelation. Not only was someone of note taking an interest in him; it also proved celebrities were real and potentially accessible: the barrier had been taken away.
After school, he studied drama in London. Although the academic side of life made little impression on him, he loved the eclectic mix of people and the excitement of city life. After graduating, Julian was filling in time doing his usual part-time work for a caf in Crouch End, when he happened to notice a job advert for a 'celebrity editor'. "The advert read: Do you know the difference between Ren and Stimpy?; Why did Angel dump Shane on Home and Away?; and Can you name all the members of Take That?. I hadn't even considered being a journalist until that moment, but I thought: I actually know the answers to all those questions. And it sounded exciting - the launch of a teenage magazine called Sugar, which is now part of the establishment."
Instead of sending in a traditional CV, he created a collage, and turned up to the interview in jeans, t-shirt and trainers. Jo Elvin, the editor (and now a friend), didn't give him the job - but was impressed enough to offer him work experience. Within a few weeks, he was on the payroll. He began as a junior writer and ended up special projects editor, before moving to B magazine, More! and, in 2000, becoming deputy editor of Heat. He briefly left to edit First, aimed at women in their 30s, but returned to launch Heatworld - Heat's up-to-the-minute website - in May 2006.
He knows his new job, as editor, is going to be tough - especially in the current economic climate - but, he says, "There are times when I find myself thinking, 'Oh my gosh - what am I going to put on the cover this week?'; or 'I've got so many pages to fill'. And you can find yourself getting stressed, like you do in any job. Then you stop and think: I'm being paid to play! and that is a wonderful privilege."
Whom would he least like to interview?
"Tom Cruise What's the point? He'd just tell me some ridiculous pre-arranged lines about his new film."
And most like to interview?
"It would be the same answer tomorrow and next year: Victoria Beckham. I interviewed her years and years and years ago when she was in the Spice Girls and I was at Sugar magazine. She was adorable. She's warm and very funny and she totally gets it."
This is a man who isn't dazzled by the stage lighting; in fact, he spends his life trying to peek behind the scenes. "In my first and second issue as editor, we did an amazing campaign where we persuaded a lot of high profile women - Fearne Cotton, Davina McCall, Myleene Klass - to pose without their makeup on and without airbrushing. We got this amazing response because they don't see the point in airbrushing, either. Who wants to see robots or cartoons?
"The irony is," Julian Linley says, "they looked amazing without their makeup. The funny thing is that celebrities want to be perceived in a particular way, and putting makeup on is putting on a mask; but the truth is, people prefer to see you as you really are. And that's what Heat is about: showing celebrities as they really are."
So says the top-notch London editor, who's still a Cotswolds boy at heart.