If it is Mohamed Al-Fayed’s theory that Coleridge went stone-bald at an early age because of the amount of fornicating that had gone on, it’s necessary to remember that this was the Eighties, a whole generation ago now, before sex had been outlawed by the new puritanism, and political correctness did not exist. What gives great gusto to The Glossy Years, indeed, is the spirit of unrepentant devilry Coleridge evokes, a mood captured in the contemporary magazines edited by Tina Brown – upper-class comics flung together intuitively, seemingly adventitiously, with articles about Venetian churches jostling next to pieces about sunglasses or orgasms. Here was a journalistic ethos that “caused trouble, stitched up the subject, betrayed confidences”, and revolved around minor royals, major tycoons, “social astronauts and posh teenagers”.
Less warts and all, more beauty spots and Botox, Coleridge has an eye for celebrity and an ear for telling a pithy anecdote with concise yet colourful, broad-brushed punch — the tone is gossipy, dates are vague, slights are gentle... Coleridge paints his success as part party fop, part plucky gumption, part lucky sod. The hard graft is, for the most part, kept behind closed doors. Yet when he draws back the curtain on the actual business of magazines, we get some of the most compelling nuggets of The Glossy Years... But the primary agenda is to entertain. Perhaps aptly, given the title, Coleridge is inclined to gloss over analysis, ration deep-dive details and dodge contentious issues — the industry’s lack of racial and social diversity, the age and size of models the most obvious. His is a world immediately populated by the “pretty”, “adorable”, “glorious” and “sweet”, and given dazzling polish by famous faces at every turn. Gloss in its shiniest form.
Prudes will claim that The Glossy Years is silly, snobbish and futile. They will be quite wrong. The book has bounding vitality, glorious zest and an uplifting generosity of spirit. It is always playful, sometimes hilarious – but above all it is wise. Like all sensible Englishmen of his class, Coleridge has kept his life compartmentalised. He never brought celebrities home or tried to mix them with his true friends. Somehow a calm, old-fashioned integrity kept him distant from squalid behaviour. Coleridge resembles Rudolf Rassendyll keeping caste in the defiles of the Balkans.
This memoir by Coleridge – who presided over the UK versions of Vogue, Tatler, GQ and other magazines for 25 years as managing director of Condé Nast Publications – will do irreparable damage to the glossy magazine world’s reputation as a hotbed of neurosis, bullying and hysteria... This autobiography is the literary equivalent of a light sparkling wine, bubbly but lacking in body. It is often blissfully funny. There seems to be some anecdotalist equivalent of the Bat-signal that summons Coleridge into the presence of anybody in London who is about to say something memorably funny; the put-down he overhears Princess Anne delivering to Conrad Black is practically worth the cover price... He is far better at telling the sketch than the portrait however, and disappointingly some of the people he knows well – his god-daughter Cara Delevingne or the great Browns of journalism, Craig and Tina – remain rather flat on the page. He is very good at describing the unique essence of the magazines he has worked on, but, perhaps inheriting his father’s modesty, he offers self-deprecating stories in place of any insight into why he has been so successful at his job, although the reader will deduce that it must have a lot to do with the sunny, Tiggerish personality that beams from every page... Will people, on the strength of this book, wish they were Nicholas Coleridge? He seems happy and fulfilled, but, perhaps because he offers us no real self-analysis or insight into what he thinks about life – little sense of his religion or politics – he conveys that this has been achieved by insulating himself from deep feeling. There is no question, though, that one might wish to make as many people as happy, personally and professionally, as Coleridge has done – and will continue to do with this amusing book.
In this entertaining memoir he drops more names than a cockney drops aitches, yet it is not done to show off. A man who has run Condé Nast’s British operation for 30 years doesn’t need to brag. It is simply the world he has always moved in, since he traded stamps at prep school with the future Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell, or produced an Eton magazine with Craig Brown and competed on the debating team with the young Oliver Letwin and Charles Moore. Of course, he had a future award-winning actor (Rupert Everett) as his cleaner in his twenties: doesn’t everyone?