Martin Daubney: I set fire to writers and blew them up with napalm

Martin Daubney stepped down after seven years as editor of Loaded in August as owner IPC Media negotiated its sale to Vitality Publishing.

He was appointed editor of Loaded in 2003 after begining his career on real life women’s title Bella then going on to work for Maxim, FHM, The Sun and the News of the World.

At its peak Loaded sold more than 450,000 copies a month but sales had fallen to just over 50,000 at the start of the year. Here Daubney runs Press Gazette through the high and lows of his time at the helm:

Why are you leaving?

I’d been editor of loaded for seven years – you get less for armed robbery these days. I became a father last May and turned 40 in June, so, in truth, I’m more dad than lad now. The time just felt right for this silverback to stand down with a smile, and let some other young buck take over the rut.

What was the high-point of your time at Loaded?

Being invited to debate at the Oxford Union, same as Churchill and Mandela. I won, too, trouncing Times dinosaur Libby Purves and Loose Woman Carol McGiffin on the topic of censorship of the female form.

I’ve always fiercely believed in freedom of expression, but everybody just thought we were thick beer monsters. We weren’t: we were intelligent working class lads who don’t like being told how to think by the sneering intellectual snobs of our so-called liberal media. I won by a majority of 3:1, and my mum and dad were in the audience in that historical debating hall, crying with pride.

And the low point?

Being called by an ex-colleague of mine from the News of the World one Friday afternoon, who told me he’d got me over a barrel – for shagging George Best’s wife, Alex, who was our cover girl in Feb 2004.

I didn’t have sex with her, but that pertinent fact wouldn’t get in the way of that Sunday’s front page splash.

Besty trashed their gaff and smashed up Alex’s BMW when she was eight hours late back from our interview (we hit the fizz with a vengeance), then went out on a three-day bender that only ended when he got arrested wearing a terry towelling robe in a hotel lobby after two hookers lifted his wallet.

Alex agreed to give the Screws pics of George’s wrecking spree if they left me out of it. They did, but the hours until the first edition landed Saturday night were the longest of my life: my missus worked on The Sun.

Most outrageous escapade?

Where to start? I shot radioactive wolves from a helicopter, rode a powerful motorcycle past Bucko House dressed as a duck, was chased by Cuban cops on an illegal motorbike while dressed as Che Guevara, flew burgers to David Blaine in a little helicopter, and paid dwarves to race donkeys while we drank iced gin.

I set fire to writers, bailed them from Russian jails, shot them from cannons, threw them in ice pools, blew them up with napalm, made them wrestle grizzly bears and had them commit all manner of foul sex acts in the tireless pursuit of our readers’ entertainment. Some of them lived to tell the tale.

Along the way, we were sued by the Pope, and offended Christians, feminists, Satanists and the animal rights mob.

It was a perpetual adolescence, and, for a while, nobody ever told us to stop. I doubt there’ll ever be another job like it again in the media, and if there was, I wouldn’t want it!

Most bizarre moment as editor?

The Independent phoned us up and asked us if we’d ever had a guest Editor, and I lied a monkey had once done it. They demanded a photo, so we tried to hire a real simian, but couldn’t, so we got this robotic monkey head shipped in from the States.

The head screeched or nodded when you waved a hand in front of it, and we used this as a primitive ‘yes’or ‘no’to major editorial decisions. Our publisher called time when it sent us to the Stamford Arms six times in one day. Before lunch.

How do you see the future of the Lads’ Mag market? Is it doomed?

Listen, the lad’s mags obituary writers have been sharpening their pencils since 1997, when I first got in at FHM. Why? Because they don’t like it up ’em. One thing I will take away from this job was the sheer ire and bile directed at us, because of what we stood for. I’ve been spat at, and sent hate mail and I found it inexplicable: we were just paper and ink.

The market is not what it was, granted, but those of us who play a rarer tune have to be satisfied with a smaller audience. There will always be room for quality men’s mags.

What is you advice for your successor at Loaded?

The opportunity is genuinely there now to take Loaded back to its grass roots, so long as it gets the right creative freedom. It needs to feel more punk rock. You don’t win a race by looking in the rear view mirror, so let’s carve a fresh furrow. I sincerely hope the chaps are given that chance. The British media would be a poorer place without Loaded.

What are you planning to do next?

Take time off to be with my son. Editing Loaded meant I hardly saw him for his first year, and I’ve had no time between jobs since 1995. After that, I’d like to do something contrary, like edit a women’s mag, or a showbiz title. Or maybe a grown-up men’s mag? People tell me I’m good on telly, and I’ve got plenty of mates on Fleet Street, so who knows? Right now, I need to de-Loaded my soul. In the end, I guess I finally grew up.

This feature first appeared in the October edition of Press Gazette magazine and is republished here as a free sample of the sort of content available to those who Subscribe to Press Gazette

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