Toilet Reading: National Enquirer

Tagline: ‘Ameri—(Bruce Jenner’s head)–ttest weekly’

Price: £1

Who is this magazine for? Being a celebrity is a popular career choice for some people. Apparently it’s supposed to be a glorious release from the drudgeries of life. No more sorting out the recycling or hanging around with mouth-breathers. No more Youngs Admiral’s Pie. No more exams or beige carpet. It’s all red, red, red from here baby.

National Enquirer

Certainly, your job can’t be as high powered as David Pecker’s. I bet he just takes out the bins.

But these dream jobs often turn out to be hard in ways you wouldn’t imagine. Guns ‘N’ Roses whiner Axl Rose once pointed out that the life of a rock and roll front man wasn’t so fun when you had to do the business every day. ‘Would you want to jump off a car  roof every  night?’ he bitches, a routine which puts a twice-daily Jubilee Line crush into perspective.

Another occupational hazard of celebrity life is the gossip rags. These are essentially toilet roll for wiping the minds of the terminally confused. From the price tag to the shoddy, absorbent paper, National Enquirer does all it can to create the impression that this is a publication run and read by bin-sifters.

National Enquirer is written for the American market. This fact is given away by three things – Old Glory on the masthead, repeated and unapologetic use of the word ‘duds’, and a laser-like focus on Hollywood’s finest. British gossip-mongers like Heat and Pick Me Up! tend to shy away from A-listers. That’s partly because they have neither the PR contacts nor the libel insurance to risk it, and partly because their readerships prefer to pass judgment on whoever happens to be on Hollyoaks or Corrie this week. I suppose if you’re going to shit on people, far better to be close enough to them to imagine the look on their faces.

What did you get for your £1? National Enquirer focuses on targets (and I use that word advisedly) who have achieved single name recognition. In most cases – ‘Britney’, ‘Kanye’, ‘Brad’ – this represents ultimate accolade of public life. Of course, single name recognition isn’t a guaranteed victory in every case. Lembit, for example.

But with a retail price of just a quid, it’s quite clear that National Enquirer is not going to be able to afford legitimate access to star quality of such lofty heights. Instead, you’re served the reheated remnants of the papparazzi’s more desperate efforts. This menu is set pitch perfectly by the inside front page: Britney Spears’ fat rolls captured by long lens, and Brooke Shields putting some dogshit in a bin.

Celebrity ‘news’ absorbs the vast majority of the mag’s 47 pages, but as an afterthought National Enquirer has generously thrown in a couple of pages of Real Life (usually some outlandish sex thing that would get seven or eight pages at the front if a bona fide celebrity did it) and True Crime (because National Enquirer is read by the kind of people that would slow down extravagantly at car accidents).

National Enquirer

There’s the Pulitzer in the bag.

Features: After the dogshit-fat roll opener, the magazine gathers pace with the scoop that Rihanna is no longer planning on allegedly touring with Kanye. Hot on the heels of this ‘something unannounced isn’t going to happen’ shocker, National Enquirer follows up with ‘something that happened on TV happened’, ‘something that’s going to happen on TV will happen’, and then, brilliantly, another story about dogshit.

Unfortunately, other than excreta-based exclusives, the mag’s cupboard of fresh stories is distinctly bare. A twenty-year old story about Demi Moore is followed up by the stunning revelation that time continues to pass, with reports suggesting this temporal phenomena is especially pronounced in the vicinity of Michael Douglas’ face.

National Enquirer

It’s a cheap gag, but seeing as she’s made a very lucrative career by making women feel inadequate, I don’t care.

Some originality is provided by the liposuction photo feature, which elegantly kills two shitehawks with one stone by allowing the mag to print bikini-clad celebs and judge them for being fat AND not being fat. It’s really not worth saying anything more about this, other than the fact the Donatella Versace bears a striking resemblance to an oven-baked version of the Javier Bardem bad guy in Skyfall.

Meanwhile, over in True Crime, we have the story of a woman who killed her husband for his money before keeping his remains in Tupperware boxes for seven years. She even moved house twice. Clearly this is both sinister and sad, but the horror of the crime is dampened somewhat by National Enquirer’s ecstatic praise for Tupperware’s ‘handy, leak-proof containers with snap-on lids’. This is either an exceptionally poor investment of the Tupperware PR budget, or a savvy grab for the sizeable ‘well, you’ll never know when you might need it’ murderer’s Tupperware party market.

Adverts: Surprisingly, the mag has only managed to snag two adverts. The first is for Peacocks, a clothing chain that competes with, nay, aspires to be Primark.

The second, on the back cover, is for a Nightmare Before Christmas themed clock. A tenner for ‘S&H’, and a further £179.95 for the ‘I&T’ that is the clock itself, this 21-inch monstrosity must be the ugliest object ever crafted by human hands. Looking at it directly produces a burning sensation akin to being stung repeatedly in the eye by a swarm of urine-soaked bees. Legislation prevents me from publishing a photo.

Magazine favourites The Bradford Exchange are behind it, of course, rubbing their hairy hands with glee. For some reason, I can’t shake the feeling that David Blaine must be a shareholder in them.

Letters pageNational Enquirer doesn’t have a letters page. However, that doesn’t mean it takes no interest in what the readers are thinking. There was a comprehensive survey at the back, so I helpfully decided to fill it in.

National Enquirer survey

“Army of readers”?


Hopefully I’ll get the 100 quid.

Rating: 2/10

Provided they stick to Tupperware and dogshit, National Enquirer is almost readable. Otherwise, no.

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Toilet Reading: Real People

Tagline: ‘Fab Stories!’

Price: 67p

Who is this magazine for? Sixty-seven pence is an odd price for a magazine. A strange price for anything, come to that. What costs 67p? Other than a well-judged bag of pick n’ mix and a small quantity of loose mushrooms hand-selected at the supermarket, it’s hard to think of many other things. So why is Real People being sold for such a precise fee?

price war, real people magazine

The poor bastards don’t realise that ‘Love It!’ is retailing at 65p.

The answer only becomes clear when the mag is sat next to shelf-mate Pick Me Up. Pick Me Up is an aggressively priced rag too, but pitched at a marginally less attractive 68p. It does not reflect well on the staff or readers of the mag that this suggests the following conversation happened at Real People HQ:

  • ‘The circulation war is getting serious. We’ve got a huge battle ahead at the 69p price point. What are we going to do?’
  • ‘Put more puzzles in?’
  • ‘No, the mag is almost entirely wordsearch-based as it is.’
  • ‘What about upping the nudity count?’
  • ‘Good idea Rodney, but boobs cost money, and I’ve heard the Pick Me Up editor is sexting that woman off Made In Chelsea. Let’s not start a war we can never hope to win.’
  • ‘What about writing some well-researched articles?’

*silence* *10 minutes pass*

  •  ‘Right, now that Hayley’s been fired, why don’t we cut the price by 2p with the money we’ve saved?’
  • ‘Brilliant. We can’t possibly lose. Those bastards at Prick Me Up will never squeeze more than a penny out of their margins.’

Real People is all about gossipy stories. These were once exchanged by middle-aged women over garden walls. Sadly, modern life has stripped those interactions away. But those same women still love a bargain and still yearn for that fix, even if they don’t go to their garden wall to get it because they’re too busy playing online bingo.

real people magazine, nagging

‘She’s a real nagger too Paula. I don’t know how her husband stands her. I told my Barry about it, but he wasn’t listening, as usual.’

What did you get for your 67p? Fab stories, that’s what. The ideal gossip mag story is one you can imagine gleefully telling about that gauche woman four doors down (‘Oh, Mrs Lar-dee-dar over there buys her milk from M&S Paula, it’s a bloody liberty.’). At a minimum, a good story should have your bingo-winged chums going ‘no!’ and ‘never!’ and ‘I always thought there was something odd about that couple, you know, but I don’t like to pry.’

The front cover provides an assortment of teasers that are a classic example of the gossip ragman’s art. Obviously, your common or garden gossip about divorces and HRT is a bit tame (unless it’s about celebrities of course, but that’s a different genre). So, Real People delivers juicier stuff – sex, violence and babies. In many ways, Real People is a reminder that different between the sexes is small; there’s plenty of common ground to be found on boobs, fights and psycho partners. Swap articles on cats for cars and you’ve got a ready-made male equivalent, which presumably is called Feel People.

Anyway, the front cover promises lurid tales of benefit-snatching toy boys, a women popping out kids faster than I can shell pistachios, a crazy husband fire-bombing a house, a man who was nagged out of a coma and a poor woman suffering from enormous breasts. I’m not a regular reader of Real People, but I’m willing to bet that in regard to the latter story, next month will feature a piece on a woman’s redemption from tiny breasts. It’s like the tides.

real people magazine

There are button mushrooms that could submit a successful entry to this competition.

Although the mag’s main stock is in stories, it’s offers a fine line in puzzles too. Real People is to be enjoyed as a break-time read, perhaps with a nice cuppa, and it generously offers no fewer than twelve brainteasers to help you pass the time. Cash prizes are offered for all of these, an offer that looks especially generous when you consider that a) the mag costs less than a quid and b) a typical question is: ‘Which Michael Jackson album is the biggest selling of all time? A) Thriller B) Chiller.’

This question is on a page where the word ‘Thriller’ is mentioned no fewer than seven times.

Features: The stories in Real People are a roller-coaster ride through the human condition. Unfortunately, it’s one of the those roller-coasters that you get at travelling fairs where the safety bars don’t really come down over your shoulders and the carts smell strongly of horse.

A key detail about Real People is that the protagonists are paid for their stories. Up to a grand, according to the front page. The fact that these women were desperate enough for a cheque to give up their tales to the slavering gossip hounds is pretty depressing. Personal traumas laid bare for a few hundred quid so people can tut and snigger over a Nescafe.

real people magazine

For someone with acute body image issues, these are suspiciously well shot photos.

But still, rule one of gossip mags applies to Real People: the actual story is far less exciting than the front cover would have you believe. In the case of the coma-curing nagger, the medical evidence for a link between mithering and treatment of acute disseminated encephalomyelitis remains inconclusive. That woman did have really big boobs though, so I can’t fault the journalism there. 36NNN apparently, which doesn’t sound so much like a cup size as the straining noise the support bra must have made, poor woman.

Adverts: Adverts are pretty thin on the ground in Real People. I’d have bet good money that those zany people at Gala Bingo would be in there – it’s hard to imagine an easier market segment for them to hit – but the four adverts in the mag’s paltry 50 pages were for shampoo, other magazines (about soaps, which I suppose is essentially the same premise as Real People but for Not Real People), rice that possesses a magic slimming effect (possibly because it resembles sick), and a creepy bracelet.

I enjoyed the creepy bracelet very much because it reminded me of the mocking adverts for useless toot that Viz does. The ‘For My Son’ bracelet looked about as appealing as the ‘Life of Christ in Cats’ plate set, right down to their Pay Nothing Now promise. This is naturally followed by mysterious multiple payment installments and ambitious P&P costs. All in all, your proud, God-fearing mother would be shelling out £66.96 for something you could probably pick up at Argos for a fiver.

The bracelet was so good, in fact, that I decided to hasten to the website of Bradford Exchange, the company unabashedly flogging this stuff. They have been selling arse for ‘over 40 years’ apparently, and good for them.

Letters page: There’s not that much call for a dedicated letters page in Real People, as the entire magazine is basically one big letters page.

Real People

Poor kid can’t even answer back, the monsters.

However, a vague effort is made at the start of the magazine, which offers comedy news in brief interspersed with a sprinkling of missives and photos for readers seeking out the 25 quid payday on offer.

Some people have taken their enthusisasm for £25 to the point of exploiting children that aren’t even their own.

Rating: 8/10

Hell is Real People. But at 67p, who’s complaining?

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Toilet Reading: ‘Heat’

Tagline: This week’s hottest celebrity news.

Price: £1

Who is this magazine for? Boasting a circulation that comfortably outstrips most of the newspapers, Heat is one of the big guns. It has a branded radio station, TV channel, exercise DVD and online gaming site. In fact, readers are invited to ‘breathe in the goodness’ of these multi-channel options on the mag’s very first page, a sensation that I imagine is much like walking through the front door of Lush.

Essentially, Heat is for people that like telly. Not TV or television. Telly. Television is David Attenborough illustrating the world’s natural beauty. TV is Friends, maybe, or 30 Rock. Telly is Hollyoaks and Take Me Out. That’s Heat. And who’s there on page 1 but Paddy McGuinness, whose mysteriously enduring on-screen career continues to confound all logical explanation. He’s like one of those optical illusions with the vase and the face – your eyes know he’s there, but the brain can’t help but feel confused and a bit sick.

Anyway, how can something as ubiquitous as Heat qualify as a ‘specialist magazine’, the more irritating among you might ask? Well, mid-market it may be, but Heat is undoubtedly a specialist in what it does – high-octane glossy celebritat. Heat has been making women feel insecure for over 15 years now, rare longevity in this cut-throat segment. Besides, mere average magazines cannot boast of achieving ‘the lowest moment in British journalism‘, and still sell 814 issues.

What did you get for your £1? To give Heat some credit, there’s no question that it comfortably beats all the other mags I’ve read so far on the important measure of pages per penny, clocking up nearly one page per pee.

Madge, Heat magazine

Poor old Madge. From Neighbours dame to ‘too crap for Heat’. Heat! 

Being a well established player, Heat has built up a stable of tried-and-tested regular items. ‘What Were you Thinking?’ sensitively deals with the fashion errors of well-loved celebs, kindly advising readers to ‘try not to vom on the nice magazine’. And then there’s ‘Fill in the blanks’, where we find an interview with a woman called Sam Faiers, whose face and responses exclusively reveal that she is made out of cardboard.

Sam Faiers, Heat magazine

If cardboard could talk, this is what it would say.

Besides the features, which we’ll come on to shortly, there’s an X-Factor heavy crossword, a hard-hitting news section (which confuses you by including a picture of Obama, but then reassuringly notes that his picture is there because he is ‘hot’) and an entire telly guide.

The telly guide makes the editorial team’s allegiances clear by writing accompanying copy for each programme in proportion with their likely interest to the typical Heat reader. University Challenge, Only Connect and Newsnight get a combined total of zero words.

TV Guide, Heat magazine

Note the particularly insightful write-up of Rich, Russian and Living in London.

Features: Because it is gossip mag law, Skeletor appears in the first feature, the thrust of which appears to be some reheated quotes from last year, plus the fact that she may have asked an estate agent to look at some stuff. And then, because it’s also gossip mag law, there’s a load of old toot about how Jennifer is definitely going to dump all over whatever Angelina is doing this year. Apparently, Aniston’s only eating egg-white omelettes with spinach and bacon in 2015, and according to our guff correspondent Rhiannon Evans, that guarantees a spicy catwalk encounter at the upcoming Oscars.

Geordie Gaz

Gaz is the Byron of our times.

Aside from the regulars, there’s some insightful musings from Geordie Shore’s Gaz, who claims to be a secret millionaire. This may be because he has not quite grasped the difference between pounds and pence.

There’s quite a lot more besides, but to be honest, it made me quite angry. The Heat article formula has the creativity and deft touch of an aircraft safety briefing; stupid rhetorical question, joke that Miranda scriptwriters would reject, paragraph of context, the ermagherd shock ‘twist’, joke that Two Pints of Lager and Packet of Crisps scriptwriters would reject, blah blah, pop pop, woo woo.

I’m not going to mention the reviews section, except to say that if you can’t get five stars in Heat (and nearly everything does) you really must have produced quite the turd.

Smelly woman in Heat

‘Because showering takes a while’? Would Aniston say that? I suppose Madge from Neighbours might.

Adverts: As you’d expect from a magazine focused on the visuals, the ads in Heat have a somewhat skin deep feel to them. That said, they clearly don’t always necessarily expect the same hygiene standards of readers as they might from celebrities.

Elsewhere, the back-to-back adverts for Cow&Gate and Nicorette imply a concerted January push to capture the ‘regretted shag at the work Christmas party’ market.

There aren’t that many standalone adverts, but that’s because it’s far easier to shill your pap under the guise of thin articles like ‘Best Dressed Toddler’. Things like £70 Timberland boots, for example.

Letters page: Surprisingly there isn’t one. This may be because the message Heat conveys loud and clear is that normal people aren’t worth your attention. That’s partly because normal people eat fags and stones rather than egg-white omelettes, and partly because they don’t put out press releases for lazy subs to copy and paste.

Rating: 1/10

God, it’s awful. Your Chickens was infinitely superior.

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