Nicholas Coleridge, retiring chairman of Condé Nast, lifts the lid on his glamorous life of parties, princesses and publishing. Words by Corrie Bond-French.
After more than 30 years at the helm of glossy magazines, Nicholas Coleridge’s extraordinary life is now the subject of a tell-all memoir.
His book The Glossy Years: Magazines, Museums And Selective Memoirs is hailed as a must-read of the year.
The Eton-Cambridge-educated journalist and author has attended more parties than there are seats on Centre Court, blushingly reassured royalty on matters anatomical and met his heroes.
Nicholas is the son of former Lloyd’s of London chairman, David Coleridge, and distant nephew of Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. (He still knows Kubla Khan by heart from his school days when the novelty of a Coleridge descendant appealed to successive teachers.)
But he fell in love with magazines when he first thumbed through his mother’s Harpers And Queen as a teenager.
The first journalist in his family, Nicholas has worked as a columnist for the Evening Standard, editor of Harpers And Queen and written 12 fiction and non-fiction books.
He has also spent three decades at the helm of Condé Nast, overseeing titles including GQ, Glamour, Tatler, Vogue and Vanity Fair among others.
When Princess Diana became a regular at Vogue House, Nicholas confesses to initial surprise when, after the pair were snapped leaving a restaurant, he discovered she had personally tipped off a tabloid pictures desk before they arrived.
“The Princess of Wales was a great supporter of Vogue in her heyday, and used to come into the offices quite frequently to try on clothes and work out what suited her.
“I think she was media savvy right from the start. She was very charming and had an extraordinary allure. But I think she always knew what she was doing, she was highly image aware,” Nicholas reflects.
On another occasion, she asked him whether her bust was too small after topless photographs had elicited teasing from Prince William’s Eton school friends.
A huge fan of David Bowie, Nicholas has never quite recovered from meeting his hero. Bowie asked if he was the same Nicholas Coleridge whose books he and Iman had enjoyed reading.
“On the whole, I recommend that you don’t meet your heroes, in case they disappoint. But my encounter with David Bowie was extraordinary and surprising.
“It would never have occurred to me in a million years that he would have read several of my books. I still find it difficult to imagine my Number One Hero sitting in a chair reading my novels,” he says.
Famous childhood friends
At school, Nicholas traded stamps with future Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell. He also competed on the debating team with Oliver Letwin and Charles Moore.
He regularly meets his oldest, non-famous friends too.
His tome is chock-full of amusing anecdotes including a weekend away with William and Ffion Hague and Bob Geldof. He also tells how his onetime cleaner went on to become award-winning actor Rupert Everett.
But Nicholas also reveals highly personal experiences. He admits to scraping into Eton and Cambridge after unhappy years at prep school, where a master molested him.
“I found the process of publishing the book a bit exposing. You are putting yourself out there – warts and all – and you don’t know how people will react.”
He adds: “I gave the manuscript to the children to read ahead of publication, and told them they could veto one thing each, if they wanted to. But they didn’t really.
“They laughed a lot which was encouraging. And sometimes exclaimed, “Are you really including that story about the girl at the teenage party in the game larder, Dad?!”
Mad about Mayfair
Married with four children, he also has a particular love of Mayfair.
“I have worked most of my career in Mayfair. Georgia and I got married in St George’s, Hanover Square, and had our wedding reception at Claridge’s.
“George Club, the Bath and Racquets Club, 5 Hertford Street, Doug Hayward’s tailor shop, I could go on – all places I have loved.
“One of my favourite things is walking home through Mayfair, and then on through Hyde Park, either to Chelsea where we live or else to the Victoria and Albert Museum. The London parks are one of the glories of London.”
Nicholas Coleridge: The Glossy Years, published by Penguin Random House, is out now.
Main picture: Nicholas Coleridge by Felix Clay.
Second picture: Princess Diana at Vogue House.