Love, sex toys and a new magazine for women is not normally the kind of combination you associate with the BBC.
But that’s exactly what the Corporation has signed up for in its new consultant Heather Love, who at 18 worked at Penthouse Publications despatching sex aids to readers and proof-reading erotic fiction.
Successfully wooing the 44-year old launch meister of UK Marie Claire is quite a coup. And her appointment is a clear signal that the BBC is moving aggressively into new magazine sectors, including a women’s title. It seems likely that the Corporation will use Love’s expertise, not least in the area of imaginative cover mounts – such as the plastic privilege shopping card – that she helped to pioneer at IPC.
Yet it is odd that the woman who loves launching magazines should be leaving IPC after 24 years, when it has promised 30 magazine launches over the next three years.
Love – who announced her departure in March – is one of a number of senior executives who have left the company in the six months since venture capitalist Cinven backed an 860m management buyout from Reed Elsevier. These include former IPC editor-in-chief of Ideal Home Sally O’Sullivan, who is in the process of setting up her own contract publishing company; Joanne O’Hara who has gone to Gruner & Jahr as group ad director; and circulation director David Greene, who has just joined The Independent.
Industry sources suggest that Love may have become frustrated that promised investment in brands has not materialised. One source from another publishing house says, “I think the management buyout has been at a high price and there is intense pressure on people to deliver on profitability targets. IPC is a fairly lean company and there is no fat left to trim. The cutting of the new projects division may be indicative of a new attitude.”
But Love denies that there is any connection between the changes at IPC and her decision to quit, which she announced in March. She attributes the move to a sea-change in her life that began several years ago.
“I was burningly ambitious ten years ago. I wanted to sort of rule the world but now I see other people ruling the world and I think no, someone else can do that; I don’t want to. I’d rather rule my own world, thank you.”
She says she met and fell instantly in love with the Australian businessman Jonathan Vine-Hall when she was on a business training course at the Kellogg School of Management in Chicago six years ago – “one of the best things IPC has ever done for me”. Since marrying him, her priorities have changed. After living in London all her life, two years ago she moved to a house “in the middle of nowhere” in East Sussex with two German Shepherd dogs and a Maine coon cat. Her career change is partly motivated by a desire to help her husband Vine-Hall with his toiletries business, which includes the Original Source range.
“I realise now that the world does not revolve around London and people under the age of 30,” says Love. “I decided there’s got to be more to life than being publishing director of Marie Claire. It was the most tremendous emotional wrench for me to leave this company. But I couldn’t bear the thought of waking up in ten years time saying ‘Is this who I am?'”.
Admitting her private feelings in this way is obviously not something that Love finds easy. “I know that some people think I’m quite aloof or hard to get to now,” she says, “and I totally understand that. Actually I’m terribly shy and I keep my private life private.”
She is clearly nervous in front of the camera. And indeed for someone involved in the fashion world her whole demeanour is remarkably reserved. Her dress style has more in common with Jaeger than Prada. She breaks the Absolutely Fabulous mould in other ways, too: she loathes New York and everything it represents. “I don’t like the insincerity of New York,” she says, “and I don’t like the lifestyle people in publishing lead over there, which is a very public life. I find it hard and very intrusive.”
Her hat stand is graced by six umbrellas suggesting perhaps that she likes to be prepared for every eventuality.
Friends, colleague and rivals alike describe her as cagey and cautious, someone who thinks carefully before she speaks. Yet without exception they also use epithets like “warm and kind” and “tremendous fun to be with”.
If Love is sometimes fearful then she disguises it well. It was she and Glenda Bailey, now editor of Marie Claire US, who persuaded Marie Claire France to choose them to publish UK Marie Claire instead of Associated Newspapers. And it was her controversial decision to champion Marie Claire launch editor Glenda Bailey – whose broad Derbyshire accent must have sounded painfully out of place next to the glamorous catwalks in Paris or Milan.
“The early years of Marie Claire were a real struggle. Firstly because we were creating a new niche, and that’s never easy, and secondly we were fighting the prejudice, in Glenda’s case, that someone with a Northern accent couldn’t possibly edit a woman’s glossy. It was all about breaking down barriers and convincing people that what we were doing was the right thing.”
But the launch of Marie Claire, which Love sees as her most notable achievement to date, will be a tough act to follow. Creating a space in the increasingly tired-looking women’s magazines sector isn’t everyone’s idea of an agreeable challenge, although she bristles at the suggestion that women’s glossies are fading – despite static ABC figures.
“I don’t think women’s magazines have got tired – and it is possible to reinvent and reposition yourself. But there is a lack of space on the newsstands and the increasing use of value-added gifts is driving the market. It’s almost as if people are buying the bag or the book and getting the magazine free. It’s become a different publishing concept, one where you have to fight much harder and have to have much deeper pockets than ever before.”
Despite all the talk of moving into the “family business” , it seems likely that the BBC consultancy role will turn into something bigger. She admits: “Toiletries do not make my heart sing, only magazines do that.” The arrangement with the BBC is “flexible”: she says she will work there initially for two days a week.
Love is some way down the road towards an idea for a new title, which is currently under discussion. ” I do have an idea and a passionate belief in it. I know that a number of other people have too. More than that I won’t say.”
The women’s magazine market is in dire need of a shake-up. The question is will Love be in the middle of it?