JAMES BROWN, the man whose name is virtually synonymous with the lads’ mag and former publisher is currently re-inventing himself — as a TV presenter. Having moved on from magazines — at least for now — Brown landed a role as front man on the Bravo channel documentary series, I Predict a Riot. examining the phenomenon of rioting.
Embarking on new ventures and trying out new things seems fitting for a man so closely associated with attitude and ‘have a go’ entrepreneurial spirit.
But perhaps what’s more surprising is that Brown admits to what can only be interpreted as self doubt when discussing his career, and some of that was a result of drugs and drinking, he admits.
This isn’t the first time that Brown has delved into the world of television. Long before he appeared on the unforgettable Extreme Celebrity Detox and coproduced a live TV show about live TV, Flip Side, Brown was offered his own show. "I had a chat show commissioned for Saturday night on Channel 4 when I was still editor at Loaded," he says. But he admits, he "didn’t have the guts to do it". Why? "I was drinking a lot and using a lot of drugs, so I just didn’t have the confidence to do it."
While Brown’s legendary antics at Loaded continue to inspire young journalists to enter the profession, much as Hunter S. Thompson’s gonzo journalism has inspired him, more than once he turned down what many might regard as unmissable opportunities through what appears to be lack of self belief.
"When I was in my 20s I was offered the chance to edit a newspaper by a proprietor, and then by another editor in the group [he declines to give their names]. They spent a bit of time trying to get me to edit one or two of their papers. I was 29 and Loaded was a huge success, but I didn’t think I had the maturity to do it," he says.
Brown’s decision to turn the offer down always stuck in the back of his mind, however. Then his football buddy and editor of The Independent, Simon Kelner said after a match, that if he had taken the reins at the Mirror then he would have asked Brown and Tristan Davies [of The Independent on Sunday] to be his deputies. "It caught my imagination that he’d said that and I thought ‘Why don’t you just go and work with him for a bit anyway?’"
The months he spent working on The Independent’s media section ended up confirming that he had made the right decision in the first place, Brown says, adding that he has the utmost respect for Kelner.
"Much as I’m loath to say it, I think Simon’s a great editor. Not that I’m loath to say it, but it will make his head… well, he knows how good he is.
"I worked with Simon and I worked with Martin Clarke at The Mail on Sunday, and both are great examples of how editors can be determined and focused and know what they want."
He might have made it to the top of his game, but Brown, who started out writing music reviews for Sounds magazine, remembers to take time to namecheck those who gave him a hand up at the start of his career. Tony Stewart, the editor who first hired him, Ian Cranna who spent days turning Brown’s "mad ranting fanzine style copy" into something that would pass for a singles column and Allen Lewis, his editor at NME, are just a few.
"I like to be able to help people out at the beginning — like I was helped out," he says. Many of the people who started off as his editorial assistants or who came in on work experience have gone on to do well. "Tom Hawker [editor of Hot Dog] — he used to walk my dog," says Brown. "I know it sounds really mad, but I always heard how Brian Clough used to get his apprentices to clean his shoes and walk his dog. I just thought ‘Fucking hell, if he’ll walk my dog, I’ve got to give him a decent interview to do’."
For I Predict A Riot, Brown spent six weeks travelling the country, to trace the modern history of riots, including violent prison disorders such as Strangeways, landmark riots including the 1990 poll tax unrest and more recent clashes in Bradford and Oldham.
According to Bravo, the series "explores the psychological, social and economic conditions behind some of the most infamous riots of the 20th century". So it’s not an hour of people kicking this shit out of each other then?
"It’s a fascinating spectacle," says Brown. "I was attracted to the project because I’m fascinated by conflict from a journalistic point of view. Human nature is to watch other humans in conflict with each other, whether they want to or not." He backs up by this point by asking if I’ve ever seen News at Ten start with a "little icky" story about a duckling that was brought up by wolves. I admit that I haven’t and, according to Brown, that’s because news is all about "big violent things".
The days of the ‘Loaded man’ and the ‘Loaded generation’ seem an age away already; it’s three years after all since Brown sold his magazine company IFG to Dennis Publishing for a cool £8 million. Brown says has no regrets about leaving some aspects of that life behind him. "When you come from a creative background and you’re running a Plc, it fires the entrepreneurial spirit and it’s very exciting, but the responsibilities of having 60 staff and knowing that you’ve got to keep doing your best to make the company work so that everybody gets paid, it’s pretty stressful, that sort of thing," he admits.
When he left the publishing world Brown decided to downsize. Massively. No PA, no office — just a phone. He took an ad hoc approach to work and decided to take it easy.
"I’d just had a little boy. I sound like a politician who’s just been caught in a gay rent-boy trap, but I wanted to spend more time with my son. I think anyone who is reading this who has kids will recognise what I’m talking about. Fortunately I was able to do it because of the cash that was generated from selling the company.
Halfway through his sentence, Brown stops himself. "I sound like I’ve sort of retired, don’t I?" he says. "Sometimes I’ve been angry about situations, like when various bits of my career and business have ended, but right now I’m really good," he continues.
Brown is in the middle of a divorce after eight years of marriage but says he’s enjoying being single again. "That’s partly why I’m happy," he says. "I tell you what, being single again, I’m suddenly realising that the comfort zone of the situation has changed.
It’s made me think, ‘Right, I’m going to do some work.’ I’ve done stuff that I wouldn’t have done before. I’m free and loving it. It’s a bit like the early days of Loaded, I can do whatever I want and it’s really great fun."