Appointed editor of The Lady – the oldest women’s weekly in the world – Rachel Johnson faced the challenge of a lifetime. For a start, how do you become an editor when you’ve never, well, edited? How do you turn around a venerable title, full of ads for walk-in baths, during the worst recession EVER? And forget doubling the circulation in a year – what on earth do you wear to work when you’ve spent the last fifteen years at home in sweatpants?
Will Rachel save The Lady – or sink it?
I watched the Channel 4 documentary about Rachel Johnson taking over the editorship of The Lady so I thought this book could be an interesting read. Before watching the documentary my sole knowledge of the magazine was that one of the porters who ran a Halls of Residence I lived in during my first degree swore by it as the place to find work.
The book’s written in diary form, it begins in June 2009 before Johnson is asked to interview for the post of editor, and goes through to June 2010 (my copy is the hardback version, the subsequent paperback and eBook releases have extra content and go through to early 2011). These diary entries include snippets of emails and letters that she receives and lists of the many and varied items that appear in her in tray.
The book does cover the same ground that the documentary covered, though with far more detail, and it’s with Johnson’s spin rather than the documentary maker’s. Before starting to read the book I knew I needed to put my own personal beliefs and politics to one side or I would more than likely end up wanting to throw the book across the room. Even after this I still found parts of the book difficult going.
Throughout the book my feelings were really mixed, and eventually I worked out why. When Johnson is talking about the job of taking over a magazine, and dealing with challenging staff and external influences my interest level was high. When she was talking about the endless parties and social events she attends, and drops names at a rate of knots my interest was low. I know that the two things do overlap, but I could really have done with less of the high society schmoozing.
One thing I did really love about the book was that each section that covered a month was preceded by a cover of the magazine. These dated back to 1899 and came right up to date, it was fascinating seeing how the covers had evolved over time – some of the older ones are absolutely beautiful.
Whilst this was a fairly interesting read I’m rather glad my version is the shorter one, by the time I got to the end I was definitely ready to finish reading. I’m sure lots of people will love this, but for me it was just okay.
A Diary of The Lady is published in hardback, paperback and eBook by Penguin in the UK.