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I first started reading "People" magazine in the 90s. Back then I used to frequent Tower Records rather a lot and spied the magazine on their racks and was intrigued. What intrigued me was the mixture between celebrity news and human interest stories, which was a refreshing change to many of the UK magazines available then.
I say this because "People" is an unashamedly American publication, and it's only in the past couple of years or so that it's become widely available in the UK. In the intervening period I did read it fairly regularly thanks to American owned media stores selling it - first Tower Records and then Borders Books - and the occasional international newsagent helping me out too. With both Tower and Borders consigned to the shopping mall of history, I was delighted to see it become more widely available and as such I never miss an issue.
"People" was originally called "People Weekly" and certainly when I first started to buy the magazine back in 1996 it was still going by its original name. The magazine launched in 1974 and has thrived over the years, along with spin off titles including "People en Espanol" and "People Stylewatch".
The magazine is unashamedly a celebration of celebrity, but major crime or human interest stories will feature predominantly. If you have an interest in North American culture, as I do, the magazine covers it brilliantly with the premise of covering people who are in the news for whatever reason.
"People" magazine has, undoubtedly, changed over the years, and not always for the better, but I still buy it and enjoy it.
I used to be a total magazine junkie but these days I tend to buy a couple a week and "People" is the one I tend not to miss. I like the mix of light hearted celebrity news and the human interest stories it has but what I like best about "People" is the absence of snark which is so predominant in UK celebrity magazines and even better, an absence of the weekly "benefit scrounger" type stories that blight magazines such as "Closer".
"People" is an altogether more positive magazine and while some of the exclusives can be a little too nice for words, none of the interviews are ever as fawning as anything you will find in "Hello". Certainly Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie seem to give all their exclusives to "People", and you can hardly blame them when you see the weekly headlines they get in less reliable US magazines such as the "National Enquirer". "People" on the other hand maintains a level of deference which means you might not get the full truth but certainly what you do get most definitely does come from the horse's mouth as opposed to the imagination of the editor.
The magazine is unashamedly glossy and every page is in colour. Most pages are at least half - sometimes more - photographs - with each picture receiving a caption which generally isn't repeated within the article itself.
Reality TV features, with the magazine seemingly in thrall of the show "The Bachelor". I have no need to watch this programme (assuming it airs in the UK - I actually don't know!) because the regular articles (usually cover articles) "People" run on it tell me all I need to know. Similarly the magazine loves to feature contestants on "Dancing With the Stars" (the US version of "Strictly Come Dancing") especially if there is a human interest story such as with William Levy who punts his tale of fleeing Cuba for fame and fortune in America which is mildy interesting, or J R Martinez' far more gripping life story.
"People" love weddings and babies but also will do deaths in a big way. When Whitney Houston died earlier this year she received a fitting send off in "People" with a 20 page spread of tributes, photographs and analysis of her life and death. Similarly when Elizabeth Taylor died the magazine gave her a cover worthy of her status as a superstar.
The human interest stories in the magazine do tend to focus more on crime so whenever there is a big crime story in the country, they will cover it in depth, so cases such as the disappearance of Madeleine McCann and the death of Caylee Anthony received a large number of column inches (and photographs). The magazine loves a dramatic trial too, so when Caylee's mother Casey was on trial for her murder the magazine carried the story every week, along with the trial of Michael Jackson's physician Conrad Murray.
Like so many Americans, the magazine also loves our royal family, and the Duchess of Cambridge regularly features on the cover now. The magazine loves the younger royals so Princes William and Harry are staples but the Queen is also the subject of many stories in the magazine.
The magazine also loves people who help others and I must admit I enjoy these stories too - it makes a blessed relief from the almost unremitting glamour of Hollywood at times. The "Heroes Among Us" section features ordinary people who try to make a difference and the American tradition of giving to charities is nicely highlighted here.
The magazine used to feature more stories on "real people" in the past and I have to say it's my only real complaint about the magazine in 2012 - I wish they would bring back more stories which focus on people outwith the world of celebrity.
The magazine does have a small fashion and beauty section and also includes a recipe every week but the focus is firmly on celebrity and the "Passages" section neatly ties up marriages, births, deaths, divorces, illnesses and trouble with the law on one page.
There's nothing demanding in "People" magazine - it makes for a light and generally escapist read but I prefer it to most UK magazines for several reasons. First up, the writing style doesn't assume I am a teenager and I rather like that. Too many of the women's magazines produced in the UK seem ridiculously childish to me and I don't see much of a difference between them and the teen magazines my daughter buys.
Secondly I find "People" an altogether more positive read. They don't have those tedious "worst dressed" features so beloved in other magazines, which seem to deduce readers are too stupid to decide for themselves if they liked or loathed a dress worn by a celebrity. I generally don't take a lot of interest in what stars wear to award ceremonies - I mean let's face it I can't imagine ANY time I'd be caught dead in a ball gown.
The tone in the magazine is probing without being nasty and while they do ask some awkward questions in intereviews the magazine doesn't adopt a preachy or judgemental tone in any of the articles it publishes, which I really like. American celebrities being what they are, dysfunctional families, and even different types of families are just accepted and reported without any suggestion in the articles that this might be a little odd. The magazine allows people to pass judgement in the Letters page of course - which always reveals how divided Americans are on a whole host of issues.
The cover price in the UK is £1.99 per week which seems a little steep but it's actually less than what you pay in the US. The only snag is the magazine tends not to hit newsagents here until almost a week after it is published in the US. Not every newsagent will sell it but larger WH Smith branches have it as do supermarkets and branches of RS McColl.
If you find UK magazines which focus on celebrity and fashion a little formulaic then you should give "People" a go - I only wish there was a carbon copy version for the UK!