Wednesday, 2 October 2013


The launch issue of Just Seventeen

Thirty years... It's thirty years this month since Just Seventeen, arguably the teenage magazine to define all teenage magazines, launched. And nearly ten since it died, leaving hundreds of thousands of no-longer teenage girls in mourning.

Thirty years... How can it be that long? How can I have ever been that young? And, crucially, how can I be that old?

In truth, I was a little bit too old for Just Seventeen when it launched in 1983. I'd been reading its big sister magazine, Smash Hits, for a couple of years - I was even known to climb through a hole in the fence to cut through the estate that backed on to our school playing field to get to the newsagent every other thursday lunchtime so I could buy a copy as soon as it came out. But I vividly remember the first issue of Just Seventeen, mainly because it came free with Smash Hits.

I had always been a magazine girl. Starting with Twinkle, a brief, deeply unsatisfactory, dalliance with Bunty, and then a long love-in with Jackie before I outgrew it and found nothing really to replace it - despite occasional flings with My Guy and Photo Love, but only because my auntie worked in the factory where they were printed. Until Smash Hits came along. And then Just Seventeen.

Right from the start, there was something different - something special - about Just Seventeen. It was our badge and we loved it. Its problem pages were ruder, its features funnier, the fashion cooler, did I mention the problem pages were ruder...? Just Seventeen spoke our language, and it was a language our parents didn't like or understand. These were girls, like me, loving Duran Duran and Human League, suffering endless bad hair days, trying to work out who they were meant to be, feeling our pain. (Just as well we didn't know it was actually produced by a bunch of old blokes, probably even as old as Duran Duran and they weren't feeling our pain at all...)

It was thanks to Just Seventeen and Jackie, and subsequently Cosmopolitan, that I went into magazines at all. It had absolutely nothing to do with the gloss and the glamour and the getting to meet celebrities - it was the way a magazine could make you feel when you just knew it 'got you'. The way a few of the right words, at the right time, in a magazine, could make you feel better, different, special, understood. In extreme circumstances, it could even change your life.

A few years later Just Seventeen and I had a near miss. A second interview for Features Editor came my way and it was going well, I could tell. It didn't matter that I was seeing another magazine at the time, I knew this was the one if I could just make it see how much it needed me. I followed all the advice. But something happened. I still don't know what. Maybe I was too keen. (Never a good look. I should have taken my own favourite mag's advice.) Either way, Just Seventeen wasn't that into me after all.

Devastated I rebounded onto another magazine and then another, until one day, a few years later, I found myself entrusted with the magazine that formed my teenage years. By then, of course, it wasn't the cool, older sister I'd fallen for. It was drowning in a sea of glossier, more grown-up-looking titles. And so we relaunched it as a monthly glossy and Just Seventeen became J17. And, you know what, for a while, it worked. Thanks in no small part to Leonardo Di Caprio and Clare Danes and the Romeo & Juliet exclusive emblazoned across the first issue.

Sales went up, readers came back, and for a while we were able to do for several hundred thousand teenage girls what the old Just Seventeen had done for me. Tell them stuff they needed to know, stuff no-one else would tell them (stuff like any boy who says "you would if you loved him" doesn't love you) and we made it our business to ensure the problem pages stayed as rude as possible (or at least as rude as certain elements of the tabloid press would let us).

Of course, Just Seventeen, like most other teenage magazines, is now RIP. Dumped, unceremoniously, like that boy/those friends/that ra-ra skirt we outgrew... And I never did get to meet Duran Duran.

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