"We've all worked for 24 hours"

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It doesn’t get crazier than this; putting together an entire issue in a matter of hours. Here’s how we got on…

Words: Lucy Foster

Of all the silly things to do on a Friday, staying up all night in order to create a magazine from scratch has to be one of them. If that wasn’t enough, we’ve chosen to attempt such a feat in a glass box of a building in Regent’s Place, a swish development off London’s Euston Road. In November.

It’s raining. It’s freezing. And we have to stay awake for well over 24 hours while producing a magazine that normally takes us a week. To say we have mixed feelings about what’s ahead of us is something of an understatement. And just to add to the relaxation, the entire project is being filmed on our website.

We stumble in around 9am on Friday 8 November wearing our appointed uniform; Jimmy Choos, black Asos jeans and silk blouses from Equipment (joyously, the boys are dressed in all black like a Nineties RnB boy band) and get our bearings. It’s not hard; it’s just a massive cube with glass walls on three sides, that has Stylist in three-foot tall pink neon letters hung from the ceiling. But there’s no time to moon over the chic designer furniture and cosy looking sleep pods. We’ve got an experiment to see out.

10.45am: Hypnotist Aaron Surtees does the opposite of "you are feeling sleepy"

And it’s an experiment worth doing, because as we all work longer hours, and require our leisure time – and all the services that go with it – to extend into the night, we are squaring up to a world where businesses, gyms, restaurants, beauty salons, museums, even dentists, will be open all hours. So how will we cope with longer waking hours, and less sleep? Admittedly it’s unlikely we’ll move to 24-hour shifts, but this seems as good a way as any to really put 24-hour living to the test.

So, while most of us will be just seeing the challenge through with sheer mettle and unhealthy amounts of caffeine, some of us will be getting an extra helping hand. We have a test group using occasional exercise to keep themselves motivated, we have another group eating a specially prepared diet, we have a napping group who have been allowed two 45-minute catnaps, and we have three members of staff who have been hypnotised, in order to sharpen their concentration. The rest of us will just survive. We’ll have to.

The thing is, ‘the rest of us’ have a good idea of how it’s going to go. In fact, we’re pretty convinced we’re going to fall apart in various stages, each level of emotion having a distinct hue that sets it apart from the one before. These will be anxiety, frustration, sheer panic, introspection, confusion, boredom, hysteria, desperation and then finally hope. Hope for a warm bed and a weekend unsullied by thoughts of an impending work project. Here’s how our predictions played out…

11:35am: Looking nice and chirpy - little did we know what lay ahead

Stage 1: Anxiety

Quite frankly, it is anxiety that gets most of us off to a shaky start. As we arrive at our new pop-up office, it becomes apparent that the fear of not getting in on time has kept us all awake. “I went to bed at 10pm and woke up at 2am,” is not something you often hear in the Stylist office. You know when you have a big day and your brain reacts to your panic by waking you up every hour just so you can check your alarm? Yeah, that. So we’re not exactly rested. But those anxious feelings get worse. Our editor Lisa Smosarski calls a brainstorm at 10.30am to decide how we’re going to fill the issue. We bounce ideas around the team; eye contact is made a little tricky by the film crew’s sound boom wafting around. Soon enough the ideas are decided and we’re away. We have a basic plan that we’ll complete two pages every hour – in total that’s 45 pages to complete by 10am Saturday. But it becomes clear we’re not moving anywhere near fast enough; midday comes and goes and the board is still bereft of any finished pages.

Stage 2: Frustration

The cogs are in motion. At 10am we sent travel writers Helen Bownass and Helen Redstone on their 24-hour road trip in a Stylist new Ford Fiesta and within 90 minutes they’re filing copy from the wet but beautiful Cotswolds. Bestselling author Sophie Kinsella comes in and writes a short story in two hours, and Lucy Mangan files her column before lunch. But getting the pages designed and edited is proving tricky, largely due to technical ‘difficulties’. A dark cloud rolls over London at 2pm. “Well, it’s certainly rainy,” we all think, before a roll of thunder wipes out all our electrics (although it turns out the black-out was actually due to an over-zealous coffee machine). All our phones, lap-tops and tablets are working off battery, the printer is down and the Wi-Fi has crashed. It’s 3pm and we don’t have any complete pages. This is not going to plan.

12 midday: Production meeting (the smiles hide the sheer panic)

Stage 3: Sheer Panic

Have you ever tried to write an important work document in a nightclub? No, of course you haven’t. That would be ridiculous. But it’s not too far from what we’re attempting. We have members of the public, friends of the magazine and our colleagues from back in the (real) office skirting around the tables, drinking champagne and chatting with the sort of verve you expect from people who have just finished a week’s work. But we haven’t finished; we’ve barely started. It’s 7.30pm and we only have nine pages of copy up on the wall. An excitable queue starts to snake around our office – readers waiting for smoky eyes from make-up supremo Charlotte Tilbury. Oh, and the Mayor of Camden turns up, naturally. Then we are momentarily sidelined by a beautiful woman in a disco leotard. It turns out she’s here to teach us how to hula-hoop in the freezing November winds (various activities have been organised to keep us from dozing off…). Only the bravest venture outside.

Stage 4: Introspection

“There’s something very romantic about staying up all night,” muses Emerald Street’s editor Anna Fielding. “It’s decadent, indulgent. Going against the grain of society. Like poets, madmen, drunks…”

The thing is, it’s only 10pm and she’s waffling on like this – not that she’s unaware of it. “Oh God, that was wildly purple prose,” she admits and so, we’ve decided that this is the fourth stage of exhaustion. It’s the introspection that comes out of having little stimulus other than your own swirling thoughts, and a lack of judgement that would, under normal circumstances, prevent you from saying something that would befit an English GCSE paper. The propensity for deep thought seems to be catching. We’ve invited a DJ – Natalie Murray – to come in and play to keep us awake. She plays All Night Long by Lionel Richie. “It’s a narrative of our day,” reflects Lizzie Pook, our features writer, with a dreamy stare. We all look at her. We say nothing. At 11pm, hot chocolate and brownies are passed round as sub editor Lucy Frith regales readers with bedtime stories – oh the irony.

8pm: Features editor Lucy hard at work writing this very article

Stage 5: Confusion

It’s 12.30am and I just said, “Warmy”. Warmy is not a word. I’m not the only one who has lost my grasp of English. Lizzie replaces the term ‘kebab shop’ with ‘kebabbery’. I’m sure it’ll catch on. We’re all struggling to finish sentences so descend into simple childlike activities; in this case, playing the ‘How many chicken nuggets could you eat in an hour?’ game (Tash: 40, Tom: 70). But we’ve still got loads of work to do. The cold that has permeated our very bones since we first walked in this igloo of an office has less impact now that we’ve been allowed to take off our elegant shoes and replace with cashmere socks, but we’re still icy. Lucy Frith and her fellow sub editor Katie Grant take to the sofa and toilet corridor (respectively) to snooze it out. For the rest of us, any sense of fashion leaves the building when members of the public staring in at us diminishes to a trickle. Scarves, T-shirts, jumpers, coats, blankets and duvets – they’re all making a very welcome appearance. I attempt to turn on a gas heater to boost the temperature; it sparks twice then catches alight. Helpfully, I turn numb with fear. “Um… it’s... on fire,” is all I can manage in a tiny voice as the mesh turns into an orange flame. “Erm… where’s the man, the man who… ?” Thankfully someone turns off the gas canister before we have to beat a hasty retreat to the emergency exit.

Stage 6: Boredom

It’s 2.37am in the morning. We have a new DJ – The London Lipgloss – pumping out Nineties dance classics. I look at the clock again. It’s 2.39. Hmmm. Still seven and a half hours to go. I do some more work. It’s now 3.06am. Our security man is eating a bag of popcorn. 3.07am… I chew on some gum. It loses its taste. 3.19am. Who wants to play the chicken nugget game?

1am: Sub editor Lucy crashes out after her live book wars reading

Stage 7: Hysteria

You’ll be familiar with this sensation from sleepovers when you were 12 and you all became so overtired you’d either start giggling uncontrollably about something like a mispronounced word, or, if things took a more sinister turn, scaring each other witless with stories of ghosts in the wardrobe. It’s 4am and we’re there. Suzanne Scott who works on the beauty desk tells us that out of all the Disney characters, she fancies the Beast more than the prince he turns into. “Yeah, and the Beast is only like 20,” declares writer Lizzie. “It’s weird.”

The situation isn’t made much more manageable by a 4am ukelele lesson; 12 members of staff are sat in a semi-circle strumming tiny guitars singing Just Wanna Dance The Night Away. Surreal doesn’t come close.

What goes up must go down. And we have come down. A feature hasn’t worked and we need to come up with a new idea fast. “Night fears” shouts editorial director Phil Hilton, giving a clue to the general mood.

And it is a very strange time of night. “You know that point in a nightclub, when you’re like, ‘I really shouldn’t be here?’” says executive fashion editor Kitty McGee as Daft Punk comes on for the fifth time since we’ve been in the office. “That’s what I feel like now.” And she’s right. There’s a feeling that we’re on the homeward stretch but still have to negotiate the taxi home and an uncomfortable, cold wait in the queue.

We have five hours left. People are pale-faced, drawn-eyed and yawning uncontrollably. Contact lenses are coming out, stale make-up is being wiped off, and all sense of looking chic for the cameras seems an alien concept. There is some comfort in the fact that we’re not the fashion team, shooting outside on the streets of London, but it’s still brutally cold. Circles of staff members sit around the gas heaters, like winos standing around trash cans in those Eighties American films. Everyone is cold; everyone is struggling to do their work with any level of efficiency.

“It’s taken a while but I’ve finally hit my slump,” declares beauty Suze. “I can’t write a sentence.” But that’s a problem, as we still have 14 pages to clear. If there’s any time to dig deep, this is it. But we need coffee. Quickly.

2.30am: Beauty director Evie tests out the ostrich pillow. Next trend on trial?

Stage 8: Desperation

“It’s past six and there is no sign of stimulants – or the sun. Evie Leatham, our beauty director, has resorted to an ostrich pillow (see above). What’s worse for everyone is that it’s been a long time since we had a production meeting to find out precisely how far behind we are, but sure enough at 6.30am Gareth Watkins, our production editor, calls us together for an update. There is still a worrying amount outstanding. “We’re really going to have to put our back into this now,” he warns. But the thought of putting effort into anything but crawling to a warm dark place to sleep is horrific. We look at each other with wide, searching eyes.

I can honestly say there is not one person present at that moment who would attest to the merits of 24-hour working; we are thoroughly and roundly beaten. Our creativity has shrunk to nothing; our energy levels are buoyed only by half-hour cups of coffee and sugary pastries that give a sudden but unsustainable jolt. “Is no-one else actually going to collapse because their bodies have given up?” asks Lucy Frith as she gingerly stands up to hand over some proofs, “I once got off a bike at spinning class and fell over. My legs feel like that.”

Stage 9: Hope

Finally, after what seems like a night spawned from hell, towards the east there is a tint of light in the sky. The old Victorian buildings of Euston Road slowly come into view, and the cold, wet square which we’ve spent the last 12 hours staring at takes on an altogether more attractive air. The familiar red double deckers start to run again; even the lights in the local Pod and Pret are hearty, warming sights. The headlights on the new Ford Fiestas – our sentries for the night – finally get turned off. It occurs to me that there’s a reason we don’t stay up all night; it’s cold, bleak and threatening. Being safe in bed, with its clean linen and feather duvet, is a far more preferable place to be.

6am: The art team narrows down the cover options

“Come on, Lucy! Where’s your banter?” Gareth is goading me into saying something. Anything. For the past five hours, I’ve had very little to communicate. “Imagine you’re in the Green Fields and the sun’s coming up,” he laughs, reminiscing about both our lost youths at Glastonbury.

There’s a reason for that. The sun has come up to reveal a blue sky; we have new-age music playing on the stereo and some members of the team are energising themselves with a spot of sunrise yoga as we’ve just started a ‘wake-up’ class. “Ha!” says the instructor, Nahid, expelling breath. “Ha!”

As Gareth and I are two of the people desperately trying to finish up the issue, naturally, we start giggling like schoolchildren. The thing is, it really isn’t that funny but we are very, very tired.

Shortly after the hysteria, things just feel more positive. It’s amazing what sunlight can do. “I feel better now than I did this time yesterday,” confesses Giles Arbery, our art director. And apart from the odd sharp word as we try to negotiate the scrappy Wi-Fi, it seems like everyone just about feels the same.

By the time the band New City Kings turn up to serenade us – with a cover of Get Lucky (number six) among their own brand of guitar rock – there’s no stopping us. We run to the board to pin up the last page, flock outside for the countdown, and only realise we’ve beaten the clock when the champagne cork pops with three seconds to go.

8am: We play the how many people can you get in a Ford Fiesta game

Can 24-hour living work?

Honestly, if we are to take this experiment as a potential model for new working hours, I think the answer would have to be no. The most uncomfortable aspect of the last 24 hours has without doubt been the cold. It has been constant and pervading, and has chilled us to such an extent that people are talking in hushed reverent tones about hot baths. It’s easy to see why; refrigerated lorries are warmer than the building in which we’ve spent the last day (and night).

And while it’s made life unpleasant, in hindsight, it’s probably helped us out. If it was any warmer, sleep would have been a far more viable option with people seeking a warm, quiet corner to lie down. As it was, we were never going to drop off when our feet were freezing and we’re practically hugging the portable heaters

But, despite the cold, it’s also a fundamentally horrible thing to stay up for the whole night. There’s not a lot of pleasure to be had slogging through the night when your friends, family and peers are sleeping. It’s lonely, it messes up your social life, disrupts your weekends and can change your behaviour. Because, while the Stylist family do get on pretty well, tempers can – and will and did – fray. You’re not yourself when you haven’t slept for 28 hours; in fact, here’s some news for you; you go a bit doolally.

So, on a behaviour basis, we’re simply not built for it. But similarly, it does nothing for our working habits. Yes we can all pull a 12-hour day; hell, some of regularly pull 16-hour-days, some of us will occasionally do an all-nighter but it doesn’t make you better at your job. If the past 24 hours are anything to go by, I’d say it definitely makes you worse.

After 10pm we struggled; plus, it’s just not a feasible pattern of work. There’s a strong possibility that we’ve set ourselves up for a week of sleep disruption and bouts of flu with this stunt; so we hope you enjoy the issue after this. To be honest, we’ll probably be too ill to write it.

Come see the making of Stylist’s 24 Hour issue and watch highlights from the challenge here #24HrFiestaStylist

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Stylist Team