Bill Prince - Ex Deputy-Editor of GQ
Bill Prince attends the Salt Launch Party with Conde Nast International. Photo by Darren Gerrish

After serving 23 years at the helm of one of Britain’s largest men’s magazines, Bill Prince steps down. He speaks to Toby Louch about well-dressed Nazi’s, blabbing with Bowie and having the best job in British publishing

When you stepped down it was barely mentioned, why?

Condé Nast is very secretive about its inheritance planning.

How did you become Deputy-Editor?

After deciding I wanted to pursue Journalism I came to London and studied media studies at the Polytechnic of Central London.

I wrote freelance for a while, the cost of living was not quite so extraordinary so you could just about get by.

A sub editorship came up at NME which I took. That was when I really entered the world of publishing and became a known quantity.

I followed the editor to a magazine called Q which sadly closed last year.

I was at Q for a few years. An old colleague of mine from the NME, James Brown, had launched Loaded and been enormously successful in the 90s, he was approached to become editor of GQ and asked me to join him.

I went to GQ in 97 and James stayed for another 18 months until he left.

James got into a bit of trouble over the Nazis, didn’t he?

Editing is not supposed to be a high wire act. A best dressed list was published and Rommel – A Nazi General – appeared on it, some advertisers took great offence. He was asked to walk the plank as a result.

Editing is rather like being a football manager, if the team does well it’s a great team, if the team does badly, the manager is rubbish. There is a price to pay for having your name on the door.

Editing is a balancing act, you want to attain interest and spur enthusiasm for the product, but you don’t want to risk causing offence or losing that audience.

How would you describe your role as deputy-editor?

The editorship is a captain’s role, the deputy-editor is the navigator.

My role was partly pastoral, partly journalistic and partly commercial. It a bit like being the vice president. You are relatively unimportant while the editor is around but the second they aren’t you become very important.

You must be able to step into a role and step away from it with relative ease.

Working at GQ I was fortunate that the role was very varied. I would go from subbing an article, to writing a piece, lunching an advertiser, going to an event and traveling on behalf of the company.

What’s Dylan Jones like to work with?

People always say how do you two get along being in the same room together. If we are in the same room one of us is not working so that was the kind of dynamic that we used to operate on.

It was very clear cut, Dylan comes from a style background and because at the time the bulk of the advertising came from fashion, he focused on that. I looked after what we call in the trade, the hard luxury – watches, cars and beverages.

It was always a collaboration really, he set the direction and the pace of travel and it was my job to make sure we got there.

What do you think the best thing about being deputy-editor was?

The opportunities.

I enjoyed having access to all the conversations that were being had.

I won’t say it’s a comfortable seat because it’s not, but it’s a very nice position to hold because most of the time the editor is in place, so your job is to support them. But the buck stops with the editor.

People used to say to me, “You have got the best job in British publishing,” I didn’t disagree with them at all. I probably did have the best job.

Both travel writing and deputy-editor?

The previous deputy-editor had been travel editor, so I inherited that role.

It was a double-edged sword being deputy-editor, it meant that I wasn’t able to travel as much as you would expect.

Best destination?

The shores of Lake Titicaca at about 6am. It was about -6 degrees and I had a t-shirt on because no one told me how cold the High Andes were.

I have been to some amazing places but only for 24 hours.

There is a job and at the end of the day that must be done. Some people do not quite get that. They recognise the opportunities but not the responsibility that goes with them. They are in the bar at midnight but not sat at their desk in the morning.

You have to be able to do both?

That was the essence of GQ. You had to be able to hold your own.

A bit of a lion’s den?

It certainly felt like it sometimes.

Who’s the most famous person you interviewed?

Keith Richards, Mick Jagger or maybe David Bowie.

Ever get a grilling from anyone?

Morrissey.

He had been slagged off by the paper I was writing for at the time.

I had been warned several times that he was not in the best mood, terrifying stuff.