Thirty years ago this month, influential teen magazine Just Seventeen launched. Stylist pays tribute to the magazine that defined our teenage years…
Dear Just Seventeen, we know you won’t read this now, that you’re gone, but we owe you a thank you. We only spent a few years together, but I’ll never forget them.
When we met, we weren’t ‘just seventeen’, at all. We were barely 13, stuck in small towns and dreaming of more.
All we remember of our first encounter was that we were quickly smitten. With your advice (yes to backcombed hair, no to sensible shoes), celebrity gossip and knowledge of all things boy-shaped, you were like the most popular girl at school… except you actually wanted to hang out with us. Every Wednesday we would hot-foot it to the newsagent and hand over 70p and revel in your company.
The shop shelves were filled with other teen mags but they were never as cool as you. OK, so you had a fondness for Terry from East 17. But you also introduced us to Keanu Reeves, The Smashing Pumpkins, Damon Albarn and River Phoenix. Although, as we learned from real life stories such as, ‘Suspended For Loving Keanu’, it’s important to keep your celebrity crushes in perspective.
While other mags swooned over 90210 heartthrob Jason Priestley, you leaned towards bad boy Luke Perry who was much hotter. You championed outsiders and made us feel slightly less of one. You didn’t flaunt flashy clothes or expensive make-up, but taught us how to make a banana face scrub – utilised pre-school disco. And when he still didn’t ask us to dance, you helped us with ‘Make Him Yours With Zero Effort’.
You taught us boys (aka boyfs) were fun – but friends were better. And you talked about sex a lot, which we didn't always quite understand but we still read and stored away for future knowledge.
But despite our infatuation, in the end, it was us who dumped you for a glossier, more experienced crowd. Although, they were never as fun as you.
A few years later, you shortened your name to J-17, and only came out once a month. Teenagers were growing up fast and suddenly didn’t feel the need for your sassy thinkpieces and cool quizzes. We feel sorry for them today with their Snapchat, they haven't had your knowing hand to guide them away from mistakes and towards self-confidence.
We hoped we’d meet again when we were older and working on a magazine. But in 2004, you went away forever followed by those other teen titles Sugar, Smash Hits and More!. We still miss you, but, at least, we’ve got Luke Perry.
"We made something that was both big and clever"
It’s always funny to reflect on the names that magazines could have had. Steve Bush, the art director, wanted to call it ‘Sasha’. We had to call it Seventeen because that was the right title for a magazine for 14 year olds. The publishers of the American magazine of the same name made legal noises and so we had to come up with an alternative. Peter Strong, the publisher, suggested adding the word ‘just’. It wasn’t until years later I realised he must have got that idea from the Beatles song I Saw Her Standing There.
There’s your first illusion shattered. Britain’s brightest girls’ magazine was invented by a bunch of blokes. We’d been working on Smash Hits, which was going like gangbusters in the early Eighties, and the company wanted another title to increase its share of the teen market. We looked at Jackie and My Guy and decided the girls market was ripe for something 10p more expensive, a lot more colourful, a bit more stylish, slightly racier and – the most important point – no photo stories.
The preview issue was given away with Smash Hits with the launch a week later. The girl on the cover wore a boxer’s headguard and bright red boxing gloves. ‘Seconds out… issue one!’ it read.
Within a few months we were a bit of a phenomenon, selling a couple of hundred thousand copies every fortnight, tempting new readers with promotions – Duran Duran poster, pink wrist band, tiny book based on our already popular series The Facts Of Life – and turning a lot of them into loyal readers. These girls didn’t simply like Just Seventeen. They felt the need to boast about liking it. They liked the fact that it seemed more sophisticated and worldly than the titles they’d been used to.
Lots of people got their start in the pages of Just Seventeen. A 17-year-old Yasmin Le Bon was on the cover. Victoria Coren had her first story published in the back. Suzie Hayman, who now seems to hold the hand of the entire nation, began her agony aunting on Just Seventeen. Lots of the staff went on to great things. Looking back I can see that many of the people who were involved at the time were outsiders looking for a way in, which made them sympathetic to a readership similarly looking for a way into a bigger world.
“These girls didn’t simply like Just Seventeen. they felt the need to boast about liking it”
The theoretical reader was ‘Tracey from Grantham’, loosely modelled on Steve’s younger sister, who actually lived in Gainsborough, which was even quieter than Grantham. I was interested to read recently that Just Seventeen inspired Rae Earl to write her book My Mad Fat Teenage Diary, based on her growing up in Stamford, which isn’t far away from either. She says, “that magazine saved my life”.
We caught plenty of flak from people who thought we were too frank about sex. By Jackie standards we were very frank but only with the kind of things an older sister ought to tell you. All the letters on the advice pages were real in the sense that they were on paper and came from real people. The readers turned to the advice pages first, hoping that someone had written about the problem they were too timid to confess to, snorting with derision at the more outrageous ones. The really outrageous ones weren’t published. In those pre-email days it wasn’t easy to point people in the direction of help they so urgently needed.
I used to get outraged letters from parents. ‘Someday you may have a daughter and you won’t want her to read it,’ huffed one. By then I was able to reply ‘I already have a daughter and she’s sitting at my feet right now, literally eating a copy’.
I had occasional misgivings that we had gone a bit too far. I seem to remember we used the word ‘stroke’ in the same sentence as the word ‘pleasure’, which hit a bit of a nerve. But viewed from a world in which twerking is probably discussed on Blue Peter it all seems as distant and innocent as The Famous Five. At the time it never occurred to us to use the words ‘cool’ or ‘sexy’. It wasn’t long before conversation was impossible without them.
Come the anniversary, we few, we happy few who were in that Lexington Street bunker 30 years ago will gather. I’ll say what I always say about teenage magazines: most people go through their whole lives and never do anything that’s both big and clever. We did. So let’s raise a glass. And if you were Tracey from Grantham or one of her legions of spiritual sisters, have one yourself.
“Am I missing out?”
“I’ve been with my boyfriend since university and he’s the only person I’ve ever slept with. While I love him, I worry that I’m missing out as I feel jealous about my friends’ stories of wild sex with men they’ve just met. It’s got to the point where I’m fantasising about someone I work with. Is this normal?” Worried, 27, London
●Anita says: While it’s very normal to romanticise about single life when you’re in a relationship (and vice versa), fantasising about another man could indicate that your worries go deeper. If you’re just a bit bored, rebooting your sexual and emotional relationship can be achieved with lots of talking and remembering why you fancied each other in the first place. That said, none of that will work if you’ve fallen out of love. Be 100% honest with yourself and work out whether this is a simple case of ‘What if..?’ or something more serious. Only you can say.
“I want more than friendship”
“I’ve recently developed feelings for a close male friend I’ve known for 10 years. Friends always say we’d make a good couple but I have always dismissed it until now. We’re both single, so how can I find out if he feels the same way without risking our friendship?” Desperate, 36, Kent
●Nick says: You’re overthinking it. You ask yourself a million questions and throw up a million doubts. Then you amplify these worries when you kick them around with your friends. Sure, your mates will have helpful insights, but no-one knows what’s going on inside his head, except him. You’ve been mates for 10 years. Doesn’t he deserve your honesty? Do you really think he’ll run screaming for the hills if he hears you like him in a deeper way than ‘just friends’? And who knows – he could have had the same thoughts and feelings himself. Good luck.
“She's making my life hell”
“I recently got a great new job. The only problem is my colleague – who applied for the same position as me and didn’t get it – seems set on making my life hell by undermining me in front of others, and conveniently ‘forgetting’ to invite me to social events. How should I handle her?” Stressed, 28, Nottingham
●Anita says: You have to deal with work bullies head on. The more this woman gets away with her harassment, the more she’ll do it so don’t ignore her. Nip what’s happening in the bud by asking her to stop or having an informal word with your line manager. Keep a diary of what’s going on as it will be useful if you decide to take more formal action. Outside of work, tell your friends what’s going on as the stress can seep into the whole of your life, so their support will be important.
“Have I got a drink problem?”
“Today I found myself sneaking a mini bottle of vodka into work because I didn’t want to go through a stressful meeting without it. I’ve always been a social drinker but gradually it’s become the first thing I think about in the morning. Have I got a drink problem? What can I do to sort myself out?” Panicked, 32, Leeds
●Anita says: People become dependent on alcohol for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes it’s social drinking that gets out of control, other times it’s drinking to cope with stress, anxiety and just life in general. The important element here is not how did it happen, but what you can do now? You need to seek help from your GP and be very honest about what’s happening. If your body has become dependent on alcohol, stopping drinking overnight can be life-threatening, so get advice about cutting down gradually. Your GP may also refer you to a local community alcohol service but also ask about free local support groups, day centre counselling and one-to-one counselling to help you to get to the root of the problem. Also contact Drinkline, this is the national alcohol helpline. It’s there to help anyone who is worried about their drinking and you can call for free, in complete confidence for help and advice. 0800-917 8282 (weekdays 9am-8pm, weekends 11am-4pm).
“He doesn't want to marry me”
“I’m 33 and have lived with my boyfriend for two years. He’s made it clear marriage isn’t for him – his parents divorced when he was young and it affected him badly. I pretend I’m not bothered by this but really I am. I love him, but can I stay with someone who will never want to be my husband?” Confused, 33, Liverpool
●Nick says: Of course he’s got a family history that has made him wary. Most of us have. That doesn’t mean we need to run scared of a committed future, does it? My honest response is this – you know in your heart that the prospect of not getting married worries you. So tell him. Let him clearly understand what the stakes are. He could lose you if he won’t change his position. And if he is happy with that – then really, you have your answer, don’t you?