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Entertainment

Woman's Day editors past and present share the inside scoop on what it's really like to edit the mag

Bidding for exclusive pictures at 2am and hiding interview subjects in safe houses: A rare look inside the competitive world of women's magazines.

When we think of magazine editors of times gone by, long polished talons, big shoulder pads and a decisive air of bitchiness might spring to mind. But in reality, what you get when you bring together four Woman's Day editors, past and present, is a whole lot of memories, plenty of laughs and a shared understanding of just what goes into leading New Zealand's best-loved women's mag.
To celebrate the 30th birthday of Woman's Day, Editor-in-Chief Sido Kitchin, who took over the mantle in 2011, met up with former editors Sarah Henry (2006-2010), Megan McChesney (2001-2008) and Michele Crawshaw (1999-2001) to reminisce. The women, who still work closely at Woman's Day's publisher Bauer Media in Auckland, can't believe it's 30 years since the first copy hit newsstands.
While the cover stars have changed and fashion has evolved, the purpose of the magazine remains the same, to keep Kiwi women entertained and inspired – and to provide a treasured escape from their busy lives.
A meal, a margarita and what memories! The magazine leaders (from left) Michele, Sido, Megan and Sarah share an amazing bond.
SIDO: When I first started at Woman's Day as deputy editor in the late '90s, it was pretty much like the '80s TV show Gloss. Big hair, big personalities… What do you remember about when you first started out at the magazine?
SARAH: I remember waking up at 5am on my first day as an intern and freaking out about what to wear. I ended up with a mountain of clothes on my bed because I'd changed so many times. I honestly thought I'd walk in and it would be totally glam, but in reality, it was an office full of people working 100 miles an hour, all focused on what they had to deliver for that week and doing the absolute best job. It was all about getting the best stories, best photographs. Everything was about being best and first.
MICHELE: I'd been working as an environment reporter for the Waikato Times in Hamilton, so I was more used to being on farms than magazine offices! I looked at all these glamazons and totally freaked out.
SIDO: Woman's Day has told some amazing stories over the years. When we started, there was no email, no text messages – everything was face-to-face and that direct human contact resulted in special stories told from the heart. It's such a privilege to share people's most personal stories, don't you think?
MICHELE: I was always staggered by how many people wanted to speak to me at emotional times. I would think, surely in this time of grief or trauma, you won't want to talk about this. But they really wanted to open up and they wanted other people to hear their story. I cried through so many of them. I'll never forget talking to the family who lost a boy in the Cave Creek disaster. I sat with them at his gravesite and honestly, it was one of those things that touch you forever.
SARAH: It was a job filled with extraordinary experiences – you'd go from warts-and-all real-life tragedy, then into this weird lavish celebrity world in one day.
MICHELE: I'll never forget my story with Lorraine Cohen, who'd been imprisoned in Malaysia with her son Aaron for 11 years for possession of heroin. My editor at the time, Wendyl Nissen, flew home from Penang with them and we put them in a safe house to make sure no other media talked to them. It was so competitive back then. I helped cook them a roast dinner – quite a thing for a vegetarian! I had to ring my mum and ask her what to do.
Cooking a roast dinner for Lorraine Cohen an her son after they were released from prison was a memorable experience for Michele Crawshaw, left, pictured with current editor-in-chief Sido Kitchen.
SIDO: We've dealt with an unbelievable number of celebrities over the years – both local stars and some serious Hollywood royalty. Who stands out? For me, it's Sir Paul Holmes. I loved him. He could relate to absolutely anyone – and he was so cheeky and hilarious!
MICHELE: My all-time favourite is Rachel Hunter. I love the fact she's so Kiwi, so authentic, so fun. She was in virtually every second issue when I was editor! I'll also never forget the couple who married at first sight on the radio. They're still together and in love, it's brilliant!
SARAH: It was so successful that they did it again with another couple. I travelled with them to Australia straight after the wedding – the newlyweds, me and a photographer. So romantic! I asked them if they'd had sex on the first night! I just thought I'd put it out there and see if they told me… That's the whole crux about Woman's Day – it's about extraordinary people doing ordinary things, and ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
MEGAN: I was editor during the time that Brad Pitt hooked up with Angelina Jolie. I remember being out for dinner with a friend and getting a call from our London office saying photos had appeared proving they were an item – on the beach in Kenya with Maddox. For me, for my tenure as editor, I couldn't have asked for a better thing than Brangelina, and the triangle with poor Jennifer Aniston.
SARAH: And then along came Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes – they were huge for Woman's Day too. I was lucky to have the era of two big Hollywood A-listers getting together and now I look back, I wonder how much of it was manufactured by the PR machine. As well as the showbiz, we always made sure we had strong local stories too. There were plenty of Kiwi stars breaking up, drug scandals – everyone loves a local celebrity drama.
The way we were!
SIDO: Without the internet, Woman's Day was the only place to go for showbiz and royal news. That was quite a powerful thing back then.
MICHELE: Getting the best celebrity photographs was enormously important. I know the four of us all did our time in charge of that fax machine! I had a fax by my bed at home and at 2am it would start churning out reams of paper with all the big showbiz stories from around the world. Then you'd start getting phone calls to see if we wanted to buy the exclusive photographs and start bidding for rights. Often you'd stay up all night bidding so that you didn't miss out on those amazing pictures. It was crazy.
MEGAN: The worst was if you were bidding while you were out getting plastered. You'd find out on Monday morning that you'd spent thousands!
SIDO: I remember having a party at home once and noticing people were dancing on all the faxes – I could see scans of topless Elle Macpherson pics on
the floor and was scrambling around on all fours trying to rescue the pieces of paper.
MICHELE: That was the great thing about editing Woman's Day, no-one knew the gossip more than you. You saw the photos and stories before anyone else in New Zealand.
SIDO: That's right, it was awesome social currency! We knew all the goss. One fabulous royal or showbiz photo could mean huge sales – but it's hard to get an exclusive pic today. It means our local stories – which are the heart of the magazine – are more important than ever. Big local weddings and stories on the young royals are super-popular today. Hallelujah for Kate and Meghan and their gorgeous kids!
SARAH: I waited my whole career for a royal wedding and it happened three months after I went on maternity leave!
SIDO: Yes, thanks for that Sarah. I took over from you, and William and Kate's wedding was one of my first issues. I was so lucky! That said, nobody will ever be as big as Princess Diana was for us. I'll never forget the day she died. I wasn't in mags, but I remember Woman's Day had to shred an issue and do a special tribute. It was beautiful – I kept it wrapped in plastic. I was so devastated, I set up a shrine in my flat with candles and a Vanity Fair magazine. I still have one today – it just got bigger and bigger.
MEGAN: I still cry over Diana. It's not just for her, it's for her boys.
Cheers to us! But what we say at this table must never be repeated...
SIDO: Let's talk sales figures. Each week, editors find out how many issues have sold. The highs are so great when you get a whopper of a sale, but sadly the hurt of a bad week lasts longer for me. I don't ever want to feel like I've failed my readers.
SARAH: It's a rollercoaster because you put your heart and soul into every single issue. I remember my worst sale – my stomach just dropped out the bottom and
I thought, "I'm going to get fired. I can't go into work ever again!"
MICHELE:
But the other side of it was amazing. Every week we'd create something that really meant something and I'd look at the mag and think, "Holy s*, we did it!" There was an incredible sense of pride with every issue.
SIDO: It used to be super competitive, didn't it? I used to race out to the dairy every Sunday morning to see what the competition had on the cover, and I'm sure you'll all relate to how that would determine your mood for the rest of your weekend.
MEGAN: I actually stopped myself going to the super-market in the end becauseI knew it could wreck my weekend and I thought whatever happens happens – I couldn't change it.
We thought this job was going to be glamorous... well, it has its moments.
SIDO: Obviously I'm still ensconced in Woman's Day – I still love it to bits and feel so chuffed at the idea that over half a million Kiwis are connected by flicking through the pages each week – but now that you're all out the other side, do you still read it?
MICHELE: Of course! I always start at the back, with the A-list section. I still like that it's full of colour and drama.
MEGAN: I read it every single week. I do the puzzles. I love the fun of Woman's Day – it picks me up, but I also find there's a real heartfelt thing about reading the real-life stories.
SARAH: Those are still the stories that have the most impact on me. The fact that people will share their lives – their hurt, pain, joy, triumphs. It's incredible.
SIDO: Given all these amazing experiences, would you ever come back and edit Woman's Day again? It's all-encompassing and certainly not easy when you have a family at home, but fortunately I have a husband who's shared the domestic load and that's what's made it possible for me.
MEGAN: After editing Woman's Day, you can do anything. You could run the f*ing country! It was life- changing and I wouldn't swap the experience for anything, but I'd never do it again because it would be like being in child labour forever.
MICHELE: Truly, I would never have had the career I've had without editing Woman's Day. It gave me an incredible grounding and the ability to tell a story with heart. I absolutely loved it, but it takes so much out of you. It's a relentless pace.
SARAH: I'd love to have the odd crack at it again, just to feel that rush. But I couldn't do it week in, week out. It has to be the number-one thing in your life. That worked for me until I became a mother and I couldn't give the best to either of them at some point.
MICHELE: I think it's phenomenal you've done it for so long, Sido. And how cool is it to say that among all your achievements in life, you've edited the number-one women's magazine in the country. Here's to us!

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