Siobhan Wykes, 54, editor-in-chief of best talks to Lily Smith about her passion for writing, the loyalty of best readers and how Gloria Estefan became her big break
What attracted you to journalism?
My background is quite strange because I went to the London College of Fashion and I got myself a job in the fashion department. I quickly realised that as amazing as styling is, it’s not really about writing and I wanted to write. There were people writing about people’s lives and interviewing celebrities, and that was far more exciting. So I jumped the fence to a different department.
How did you land your role as editor-in-chief?
My career is long and varied – I started in fashion, went to features, then went into celebrity and became editor of best around six years ago. I’d already been the editor of Love It and held jobs on weeklies and newspapers. I thought it would be interesting to do more of the management side of things, looking at how structures work and what sells various titles. It’s a different level of journalism.
Do you still write as much as you used to?
Nowhere near as much as I’d like. My absolute passion is writing. I love it and to be good at something you have to absolutely love it. I was on a shoot with Carol McGiffin last week and I’m still constantly fascinated by people and their stories. I think the essence of being a good journalist is be nosy and be confident enough to ask the questions you are curious about. Take Carol for example, she’s 61, her husband’s 39 – how did you do that? And it’s a bit cheeky, but it’s quite true. You have to think, if I was reading this, what do I actually want to know about that woman? And then ask those questions.
best is mainly print-based. Did the pandemic hit you hard?
We’ve been incredibly lucky in the respect that people over 50, our readers, are loyal. A lot of them have read best for 30 years or more and they’re still going to the supermarket and putting us in the trolley. It’s habit. Anything that’s a habit tends to continue, we haven’t been affected in the pandemic in the way a print magazine with a younger readership might be.
We know print is in decline. How will best continue to thrive?
Magazines will evolve and change, everything does. I think magazines will become more specialist because a person obsessed with that subject will always buy that magazine. best is a classic, we’re a little bit of everything and our USP is that we don’t gossip, we have direct access to celebrities. We do a lot of exclusives and we have five columnists every week so people can know they’re getting the truth from the horse’s mouth with us.
Best bit of advice for a budding journalist?
Be a bit braver, pick up the phone, and speak to people. Do a bit of old-fashioned journalism. Just make yourself different, bring me something new. We’re all reinventing the wheel all the time, it’d be amazing if people brought original ideas to the table.
Standout moment in your career?
I told The Clothes Show magazine I could get them Gloria Estefan. I couldn’t get them Gloria Estefan, I was only 15 minutes out of college. I don’t even know why I said it, but I knew she was in the UK. But I emailed her agent and managed to get the interview and she was probably my big break.
She was amazing. She told me all about her Dad being sprayed with Agent Orange in the war and nursing him. She talked about being married to Emilio from Miami Sound Machine.
I remember the editor of The Clothes Show saying to me ‘I didn’t think you’d get her.’ Neither did I.
She was so kind and nice to me that I’ve never forgotten that interview. It gave me the confidence to be more daring and ask for things. Maybe you’ll get nine no’s, but maybe you’ll get one yes and that’ll be your break. It’s hard to get a no, even for me but it’s not personal, you just have to cut it off and move on.
Standout moment on best?
It was my idea to launch best Heroes. We honour one celebrity and up to nine ordinary people who do extraordinary things often at a sparkling London hotel. It never fails to inspire me every year the amount of people we should be proud of in this country. From soldiers to care workers to Dr Alex George speaking out on mental health after the loss of his brother. It gets a lot of coverage in newspapers and I’m very proud of that. That’s my standout moment at best.