In the mid-nineties I used to dream of writing for Loaded magazine, with no trace of shame or furtive embarrassment. Sure, one month they’d have perky Jo Guest on the cover, or Liz Hurley in her underbashers, but that would be interspersed with Richard E Grant, Frank Skinner or Michael Caine. Scantily clad women were just one of the laddish obsessions featured, and whether it was regular features such as ‘greatest living Englishman’ or ‘drop me bacon sandwich’, comic consumer journalism triumphs such as the Crisps World Cup, or in-depth pieces of travel writing such as the time they endured several days at Mardi Gras without sleep or drove a Land Rover through the Amazon basin, there was a Gonzo intelligence and wit at work that lifted it far above the simple tits, vomit and football formula that lads mags have become. They were living the dream, inspired by Hunter S Thompson's Gonzo journalism, they became part of the stoeis they covered, making laddish behaviour almost heroic. Around 1999 I realised I was embarrassed to be seen reading it in public – and ‘reading’ had become a bit of a euphemism, as the long articles had disappeared – and I stopped buying it.
Until now. Six weeks ago, I lived the dream and spent an afternoon getting pissed with the editor of Loaded.
The occasion was a return to the old days of inspired consumer features: the Credit Crunch Booze Test. With a looming recession, we have to economise, so what are the best budget and supermarket own label beers? The brief was to do a proper, professional tasting job, which I tried my best to deliver. The results are in the August issue, which actually came out at the beginning of July and is due to come off the shelves any day now – I missed it the first time I looked because it’s not listed in the contents section, but you can find it on page 28-29, between an article on pandas and a feature on inflatable pubs. (You can easily spot this issue on the newsagent’s shelf – it’s the one with a naked lady cupping her bare boobs on the front). In fact here it is:
The editor, Martin Daubney, really knew his way around beer and gave me a run for my money in pinning down the various tasting notes – or lack thereof. Buy the mag for the full results – all I’ll say is that if I ever find myself on my uppers with less than 60p to spend on my beer, I’m off to Lidl. They really do pull it out of the bag. Loaded seems to have had a modest revival – it has proper articles, and interviews with actors such as Christian Bale and James MacEvoy. It is still what it is – the literary equivalent of Carling – but next to Zoo and Nuts it’s like the Economist.
After we tasted the beers Martin asked me if I’d mind moving on to vodkas and whiskies, and the afternoon started to unravel. I needed something to wash away the taste of Aldi’s ‘Voska’ (our expert commented “as they say in Withnail and I, even the wankers on the site wouldn’t drink it.’”), and we repaired to Loaded’s local for a very fine pint of London Pride.
Remembering the heady days of Loaded’s youth, I was excited about where things might go from here. It was a Friday, it was late afternoon, and we were already well-oiled. Would the rest of the gang join us after putting the feature to bed? Perhaps they’d invite along some page three girls. Maybe on the spur of the moment we’d charter a helicopter and fly to Amsterdam for last orders. Literally, anything might happen. But I could never have predicted what did. In a sad sign of the times, Martin looked at his watch, said, “Shit,” downed his pint and profusely apologised. He was running late for some market research focus groups about the magazine, which he had to attend that evening.
I’m just glad Hunter S Thompson didn’t live long enough to see such a thing.