Back in 1993, after spending time studying, working in refugee camps and trying to be a musician (not all at once) I came back to London, took a part time job and spent the other days of the week trying to break into national newspapers. I gave myself six months, after which I would give up and get a proper job. After five and a half months of being stonewalled by editors, news editors and secretaries or having stories slip away, I finally got hold of something, a story involving s prominent baroness and her charity. She agreed to talk, then I made a huge mistake. Relying on phone calls and faxes in those days, I accidentally managed to sell the story twice, once to the Independent on Sunday, which was quite new in those days, and once to another paper. It was highly embarrassing. I sent a fax to the other paper saying I was going elsewhere, but they (understandably) got very annoyed and used the brief I had given them as notes for another reporter who was sent to the door of the baroness. To my immense relief, she sent them packing, saying she had already done an interview with me. I could not have been more grateful. A lesson had been learned, the hard way. Now I had to deliver something to the Independent on Sunday, which is here.
This appeared in November 1993, on the last Sunday of the six months I had given myself, so the last possible moment before having to admit defeat. It took me a while to come up with anything else after that but eventually a brilliant, mercurial news editor called Mike McCarthy took me out for burgers and champagne on the City Road (those were different days) and said he couldn’t pay me very much, in fact virtually nothing (not so different then), but if I wanted to I could call myself the Sindy’s pop culture correspondent as it didn’t cover that stuff much (yep, really very different days) and I’d get stories in the paper, get a good cuttings book, maybe parlay that into a job somewhere. It was a kind of semi internship that meant working all hours and weekends on top of another job, for what turned out to be several years. But it was also a huge break. Cheers Mike.
Eventually, the Stanley Baxter piece I posted the other day went in the Review magazine and a very senior editor on the Express magazines saw it and gave me a job there. Sometimes people only want you when they see that someone else wants you, and so a year after joining the Express, Rosie Boycott hired me to come back to the Independent on Sunday. Ironically, a few months later she went off to edit the Express. But I was on staff at the Sindy and loving it, at a time when money was super short, writers were few so you got exposed to all kinds of work and half the office desks were missing because the jobs had been cut, so we had a table tennis table there instead. My proudest days were when we opposed to the mad war in Iraq. I was with the Sindy staff until 2009, when I went freelance and subsequently joined the Telegraph. Then nearly two years ago I left there and started writing interviews for the Mail on Sunday magazine Event (got some crackers coming up, folks) and a weekly reportage/essay for the Sindy under Lisa Markwell.
It has been a blast, working with old mates, finding ways to write about things that matter. The Sindy has been feisty and fun but serious too, punching far above its weight over this time and I’m very proud to have been part of it during this period. Sadly it all ends this Sunday, with the last edition.
If you’ve ever felt warmly towards the thing, buy this last one. I’ve filed my last piece for it, which is a sad moment. (This isn’t it, by the way: in proper Sindy style, the real piece is all about what’s happening now, not nostalgia.) Some people are losing their full time jobs, so if you can then employ them, they’re brilliant, innovative, hard working people, mostly. I’m lucky enough to have other work, so while it does feel like a big personal loss, and certainly a loss for our culture in general, I will go on writing. Always looking for new commissions though, so get in touch! In the meantime, see you on the page on Sunday, 22 years and four months after that first time. In the words of the Grateful Dead-loving Ben & Jerry, in whose Vermont home kitchen I once made ice cream for the Sindy Review (yeah, that’s right, the John Pilger of my generation) what a long, strange dip it’s been.