'I'm not Desmond's puppet' says Sunday Express editor



Former OK! editor Martin Townsend, the new acting editor of the Sunday Express, has promised he will not turn the paper into a "Posh and Becks Chronicle".

"I want it to have weight, I want it to have authority but I want it to be entertaining and glamorous – the Holy Grail if you like. You have to aim high if you want to do these things.

"What I will be bringing to it is an attention to detail. I want to look at the paper, which I think is a good and rapidly improving newspaper, and try to lift all the components of the package – just to make the pages work harder."

OK! and Express Newspapers’ titles are close already, brought together by buy-ups for the group. The advantage of Townsend being at the Sunday Express will be easier two-way traffic, he thinks, but he contends: "It’s not going to get that close. The newspapers have their own identity. Yet clearly, OK!’s success and the goodwill we have built up from the magazine can benefit the newspapers as well."

Townsend, 40, arrives to edit a national newspaper without a hard news background – the nearest he has been to papers was a stint at Today as pop editor when he was 25 – but with a reputation for having taken OK! ahead of Hello! with sales of 586,000 in a cut-throat celebrity market.

He insists that a lot of what he has been doing at OK! over the past couple of years has been news – citing celebrity weddings, christenings and the first interview with Paula Yates after the death of Michael Hutchence. "I don’t think the discipline will be wildly different at the Sunday Express," he said.

His good working relationship with tough boss Richard Desmond has made him the butt of adjectives such as "compliant" and accusations he is a "yes-man".

Townsend bristled: "I do work extremely well with Richard Desmond but I am not his puppet. I am not anybody’s puppet.

"I don’t work in a political, confrontational way – I don’t have massive tempers around the office. I get what I want by trying to bring the best out of the people around me.

"I’ve been given a lot of opportunities by Richard and the company and I’m taking them."

And he warned: "I can be very uncompliant if I feel inclined."

He will have resources for buy-ups, he has been promised, but said: "We are not going to waste money. It’ll be the same kind of rules as we have at OK! where we don’t aim for middling stuff. If there’s really good stuff out there we want, then we will free up the resources for it."

He felt he had a "great first day" at the office on Tuesday. He got all the staff together and "everybody seems to be on-side and I’m hoping that anybody who is a bit wavery will stay.

"Obviously, I have never edited a national newspaper before and it is like being at the wheels of a hulking great juggernaut of a thing. But editing a national newspaper is the natural ambition for anybody in this business to want to have a crack at."

By Jean Morgan

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