herald

Sunday 17 December 2017

Read all about it -- but don't believe it

Secrets for Sale (BBC1)

Let's play a little game. I'll give you four magazine headlines, three of which are genuine, one of which is fake, and you have to guess which is the odd one out, okay? Here we go.

Is the made-up one A) "Blinded by a sausage" B) "Eaten alive by an ASDA escalator" C) "Boy trapped in freezer eats own foot" or D) "Orgasm made my brain explode"?

If you picked C, give yourself a big pat on the back. It's a fake National Enquirer headline that appeared in the hilarious 1980 disaster movie spoof Airplane! The other three all appeared on the cover of British magazine Real People.

Welcome to the weird world of weekly "true life" women's magazines, where no story is too bizarre or preposterous to make the front page.

In fact, the more bizarre and preposterous it is, the more likely it is a reporter from one of these magazines will come knocking on your door, offering you money to share your story with its hungry readership.

Secrets for Sale's cameras spent three months with Samm Taylor, the ebullient editor of Real People, and her top reporter Jane Common -- appropriately named, really, because if there's one thing a woman needs in a job like Jane's, it's the common touch.

Jane's beat included reporting on donkey sanctuary which had hired an Elvis impersonator to sing to the animals to cheer them up, and interviewing a woman who almost died on holiday in the Dominican Republic after unwittingly eating a tropical worm lurking in her fish dinner.

The women's weekly market is competitive one. There are currently nine titles in Britain jostling for the same space at the supermarket checkouts.

Real People is the comparatively new kid on the chopping block and therefore has to work that little bit harder, and sometimes pay that little bit over the odds from its tight budget, to get the goods.

The normal going rate for a story is between £200 and £1,000, but Samm was happy to shell out £3,000 for an exclusive interview with a woman whose husband poisoned her by putting mercury in her tea, in the hope she'd become so ill that she'd have to let him look after her, thereby bringing the spark back to their marriage.

Sadly, the woman didn't seem to understand what exclusive means. Just before Real People went to press, Samm discovered she'd sold exactly the same story to one of their rivals.

"We want to take readers on an emotional journey through every story," said Samm. Real People's journeys seem to involve an awful lot of stop-offs for orgasms along the way, as in the case of the young woman from headline D above, whose head exploded during one.

Her name is Sarah and her head didn't really explode. She had a brain haemorrhage. As Jane euphemistically put it, she'd been "engaging in a little DIY stress relief" at the time.

Sarah hoped Jane's story would focus on her illness and recovery, rather than the sensational details. It didn't.

But then a few things tend to get lost during the journey from interview to the cover of Real People -- the truth, for instance.

Incidentally, Real People paid Sarah £500 to buy herself a new head. Dignity costs a little more.

Stacey's stars

Secrets for Sale ***

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