Getting into media can be overwhelming. There are so many different outlets available that fledgling journalists often find themselves asking, “Where do I start?” Now a seasoned multi-platform writer, British journalist Richard Bence asked himself that very question at the beginning of his career.
The professional storyteller has successfully worked in the field of journalism since 1998, his framework of experience including well-known media heavyweights like Ink Global, CoutureLab, Barclays’s Little Book of Wonders, Vind & Vag Publishing, Camberwell Consulting, and BritWeek Magazine. Bence’s lengthy list of credits have established him as a sought after talent in the world of writing, and it all started with the infamous UK magazine, Attitude.
Founded in 1994, Attitude is Europe’s best-selling magazine for gay men. The magazine is available both online and in print and is known for its A-list celebrity exclusives, the latest breaking news, entertainment, style, travel and lifestyle features.
At the start of his career, Bence didn’t want to work for just any magazine. He had his sights set firmly on the men’s style title from day one. “It had to be Attitude,” Bence recollects. “It appealed [to me] because it was in a league of it’s own. It didn’t want to be defined or pigeonholed, and neither did I.” As a result of rigorous hard work and dedication in addition to a relocation in order to gain applicable work experience, Attitude was the place where Bence’s career officially began.
Bence devised, developed and wrote content for the lifestyle section of Attitude. “I was given total free rein, which meant that there really were no limits,” Bence says. He reported on the best places to sleep, eat and drink across the globe while also conducting A-list celebrity interviews. In addition to collaborating with the world’s leading fashion and lifestyle brands, Bence created a more high-end environment, which allowed luxury advertisers to feel safe in a previously unknown territory, ultimately boosting ad revenue in the process.
The work he contributed in his early years served as building blocks and set the framework for his incredibly successful future. Attitude served as a launch pad for Bence’s entire career, including his work as an arts guest critic on TV and radio shows for Channel 4, Channel 5 and the ever so popular VH1.
At the time of the magazine’s inception, a lifestyle revolution was taking place in the world of journalism and media. Magazines such as Wallpaper were at the vanguard of this new subject’s popularity. Bence was given the opportunity to personalize Attitude’s lifestyle section and really make it his own. “This was done by broadening the interiors section to include design news,” says Bence. “I made it more current by reviewing the latest restaurant and hotel openings. In the travel section, I broadened the remit to include destination guides, which you could actually use to navigate through the city, as opposed to just having first person stories. I also made sure we had a well-known reality TV star contribute to the fitness section which helped boost interest in the magazine”, he recalls.
These personal touches added to Attitude’s unique offering and aided in the creation of a lifestyle section that stood out from the rest. “My job was commissioning and editing copy, conceptualizing shoots, future planning in the hard-bitten world of celebrity, brokering deals with PRs, gaining exclusives and keeping the magazine at the absolute top of its game,” Bence remembers. His work covered leading fashion and lifestyle brands ranging from Roland Mouret, Burberry, Gucci, Tom Ford and Dunhill, to luxury hotels, resorts and individual properties like W Hotels, St. Regis, Rosewood, Morgans, Ace, Soho House, Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton, The Dorchester, Claridge’s and The May Fair Hotel, to name a few. Furthermore, he interviewed eminent hoteliers and chefs, including Ian Schrager, the man who started the boutique hotel revolution, and Yotam Ottolenghi, The Guardian food writer. Bence was also responsible for interviewing internationally famed celebrities such as Pop Idol winner, Will Young.
Former editor of Attitude, Adam Mattera, elaborates on the extent to which his coworker’s contributions enhanced the magazine by saying “you could always count on Richard to stay ahead of the curve with trends and on top of his workload with deadlines. His own writing was always insightful and accurately pitched to our readership while his commissioning of other writers always brought out the best in them. His proactive attitude meant the section soon expanded from a few pages to over twelve at its peak. Richard’s commercial smarts – his targeting of the lifestyle pages – often lead to advertising leads that contributed to the overall financial strength of the magazine,” says Mattera.
Alongside the mainstreaming of “lifestyle” in the public’s vernacular, the early 2000’s were also a pivotal time in the expanding power of the gay market. Attitude began reaching more than just an audience – it connected with a community. After Young won Pop Idol in 2002, his double A-sided debut single “Anything Is Possible” / “Evergreen” was released two weeks after the show’s finale and became the fastest-selling debut single in the UK. Shortly after this release, Young came out to the public. “Attitude’s unprecedented access to a generation of artists, musicians and actors allowed me to chronicle key moments in the cultural zeitgeist, like Mr. Young’s win,” says Bence.
At the turn of the millennium, attitudes to gay men in the media were not as they are now. There was a noticeable sense of prejudice and some latent homophobia. Bence could diffuse these situations easily and was a brilliant journalist who played a significant part in changing these perceptions and prejudices through his work. “We were part of a movement,” Bence says, “breaking down barriers with wit and irreverence and we did it better than anyone. We had clout.”
For twenty years now, cover exclusives with Madonna, Lady Gaga, Daniel Radcliffe, Cher, James Franco, Elton John, Sir Ian McKellen, Robbie Williams, Take That and George Michael have defined Attitude magazine. In the early years, having A-list heterosexual male celebrities like football legend David Beckham actively court the gay audience was a new thing. Bence’s presence actively changed the game in the realm of gay media: “He was a great advert for the magazine, the person from the office you would often send out to meet tricky people that needed persuading into being a part of the world we were creating’ says ex colleague Paul Flynn.
One of the perks of being a smaller magazine at the time meant that every contributing body had a hand in everything. For the magazine’s 10th anniversary in 2004, Bence had to wear multiple hats and organize the event’s red carpet party at a leading London nightspot. “The guest list was jaw-dropping: Elton John, David Furnish, George Michael and Will Young all attended, while the newly launched pop group Scissor Sisters performed live,” Bence recalls. “At one point I had to fight through the crowd to make sure acclaimed artist Sam Taylor Wood, Lulu and Elton got to their table safely, and made sure Elt got his special non-alcoholic beer delivered without a hitch! It was an epoch-defining ‘moment’ in London’s nightlife history.”
A smaller magazine additionally meant close, tight-knit interactions and relationships between each of its core staff members. One such stable mate was Paul Flynn, a prolific London-based writer and pop cultural commentator who writes for i-D, Attitude, Fantastic Man, The Sunday Times, GQ Style and Grazia. Flynn is also one of the co-writers of Enquirer, the brilliant 2012 play about the present state of British journalism. A long-time writing influence and mentor for Bence, Flynn worked alongside him as the Features Editor of Attitude for several years. “Richard was brimming with ideas for original editorial material which would often find its way seamlessly from his pad to the page. He was as good at being managed as he was managing his own pool of contacts. He maintained excellent relationships with often difficult PRs and had a smooth manner extremely conducive to getting good interviews out of his subjects,” Flynn comments of his colleague. “Celebrities like talking to him, he is a good listener and is always determined to tell a fair story, with heart, in which the subject will recognize themselves. He is particularly adept at shifting gear, from the most fantastical report on a new hotel opening to a deeply evocative first person think piece. Overall, he is great at painting a picture with words on a variety of subjects,” says Flynn.
In addition to holding the title of Attitude’s Lifestyle Editor, Bence simultaneously had other full time staff jobs editing various travel magazines at Ink Global. He made it his goal to be the most well-informed and well-traveled lifestyle journalist in London. But for Bence, it was the camaraderie with his Attitude teammates that made his first steps in journalism so memorable. “We created a home away from home for misfits, waifs and strays. It was such a privilege to be part of something like that. Attitude is groundbreaking. It is more than just a magazine – and where I found my voice. No part of my career would have been possible without it.”
Article Written By: Ashley Bower