Published on February 27, 2013 | by Jawad Elattar0
Dylan Jones: Man about Town
Dylan Jones has been the editor of GQ since 1999. He has racked up many awards and achievements, and has a lifestyle busier than everyone I know put together.
Having spent the first few minutes of the interview signing letters and putting them in envelopes, Jones leaves the room.
Upon returning, he sits back in his ergonomic-looking chair, removes his glasses, and says, “So, what can I do for you?”
It is hard at first to think anything else than that you are wasting his time. When asked what he does recreationally, Jones, 52, laughs and replies, “Sleep.”
Jones very rarely breaks eye contact and exudes a confident and assured demeanour, he looks like a man who means business.
Follow the girl
There is no clutter in his office, which is minimalistic, practical, and smaller than you’d expect for the editor of a magazine as popular as GQ.
But there is a definite atmosphere of activity from the moment you walk into Vogue House to the point at which you lay eyes on the board on his wall that contains miniature proofs of every page in the magazine. The only gap is filled with cards that read, “Bradley Cooper,” and the chances are they won’t be there for long.
Jones’ route into the world of journalism was not as conventional as his stature may imply. Having gone from being at Chelsea College of Art in 1977, Jones then studied Graphic Design, Film, and Photography at Saint Martins – now Central Saint Martins – and graduated in 1981 with a student experience that he explains was typical of the time.
When asked why he chose to attend Saint Martins, Jones explains that he went there “because a girl I wanted to go out with was going there.”
He continues by saying that people applied to the college because of the cultural and social appeal it possessed.
“[Art school] is still something that is particularly idiosyncratic to this country.”
“It was bang in the middle of Soho. It’s where all the clubs were. It’s where all the gigs were, all the restaurants. It was just the place to be. I think in hindsight if I had actually wanted to learn something I probably would’ve gone to LCP (now London College of Communication). That’s the place you went if you actually wanted to pursue a career.”
“I think Saint Martins was very good at being a talismanic brand; a sort of idea of a British art school. I think lots of people went there because they wanted to go to art school, and I think that it’s one of these traditions that has probably been diminished by the fee structure.”
“But I think it was a period when you were allowed, at that age, to go somewhere and experiment, and I think that did and does and probably will continue to produce some interesting people, because it is still something that is particularly idiosyncratic to this country.”
Jones declares that he learned “almost nothing” at university, something that he claims was “probably 50 per cent my fault, because I was as interested in going to gigs and going to see The Clash or the Gang of Four as I was going to art school.”
“The most important and exciting challenge for us now is digital. It’s probably the most exciting time that I’ve ever been involved in publishing, because the world is changing.”
This is one of very few times when Jones looks away, partly as if he is remembering the shows that he used to go to and partly as if he is seriously trying to recall anything that he was taught when at Saint Martins.
He continues and states that the other 50 per cent was the fault of the college itself, citing the lack of careers advice as a big factor.
“At no point did [Saint Martins] give you any instruction about what might happen when you leave.”
“I think we had an hour. It was almost identical to my school, when the careers advice we had was a presentation from the local factory that made machines for producing cigarettes,” he muses.
Upon leaving university Jones did several jobs, none of which he bothers to list as he dismisses them as “not particularly interesting.”
The other thing that took up Jones’ time was spending what he says was 18 months “waking up at 4 o’ clock in the afternoon, having something to eat, and then going to a nightclub… I had a fantastic time.”
“It’s a world of horses and motorcars, and lots of people still think that what you need to succeed are faster horses. That just ain’t true.”
Then an opportunity presented itself. Photographer Mark Bayley, a friend of Jones, had been commissioned by Terry Jones – now Editor-in-Chief of i-D – to photograph for the magazine.
Dylan Jones explains that Bayley needed to write up interviews and so he went along as he had “nothing better to do,” and was offered a job shortly after.
“In the space of about two weeks, Terry Jones not only rescued me; he gave me a career, sort of ‘invented’ me, and I will be eternally grateful to him. He’s still a very good friend of mine.”
Jones then went on to become editor of i-D in 1984, before moving on to The Face and Arena, as well as The Observer Magazine and the Sunday Times.
In a Guardian interview with Jones in 2009, he stated that he had never stayed somewhere for ten years. But as we talk, a decade has passed and Jones is nearing 14 years as editor of GQ.In that post Jones has been awarded the Men’s Editor of the Year award six times by the British Society of Magazine Editors, and in 2007 was presented with the Mark Boxer Lifetime Achievement Award for his career in journalism.
However, this doesn’t appear to be what keeps him going. Jones seems to have a genuine passion for his work and takes a great deal of pride in what he has accomplished, especially at GQ, and with a changing industry, Jones appears to relish the challenges ahead.
“It has been a fantastic time,” Jones says. “We’ve been the custodian of the brand, we’ve built the brand, and we’ve expanded into many different areas; the arts, publishing, literature, Men of the Year Awards.”
“But the most important and exciting challenge for us now is digital. It’s probably the most exciting time that I’ve ever been involved in publishing, because the world is changing. It’s a world of horses and motorcars, and lots of people still think that what you need to succeed are faster horses. That just ain’t true.”
“It is possible to make luck, but I don’t know how.”
Alongside working for GQ, Jones has also found time to write books of his own, most of which are about music.
Jim Morrison: Dark Star was a biography released in 1990; iPod Therefore I Am was published in 2005 and charted the effect that the iPod had on the music industry; and more recently in 2012, When Ziggy Played Guitar was a book about the creation of David Bowie’s ‘Ziggy Stardust’ persona.
Jones says that music is a big part of his life, “both as a consumer and as an editor and a writer.”
This was evident from the point at which he was reminiscing on his student days and is something that has carried through to the present, although Jones is quick to point out that “the important thing is not to let the past become bigger than the future. It is important to spend as much time focusing on the new as it is on the old.”
Most interesting of all of Jones’ books though is Cameron on Cameron: Conversations with Dylan Jones.
Published in 2008, it was the result of a series of interviews over a year and not long before the 2010 general election.
Jones has always been an open supporter of the Conservative Party – GQ was even the first magazine to feature Cameron on their cover – and a 2008 Daily Mail article claimed that “it is no longer unfashionable to vote Tory.”
“The David Cameron option was certainly better than the Gordon Brown option, and I maintain that that’s true.” Dylan Jones
Asked to support that statement, Jones states that the country was three terms into a Labour government at the time and when he said that, he thought that, “the David Cameron option was certainly better than the Gordon Brown option, and I maintain that that’s true.”
The new generation
So how does Jones explain to the current younger generation that is more often than not in opposition to the Coalition government?
“I think when one is young, one tends to be left of centre. I know I was for a very long time. I think your natural instinct if you are in the creative world is to be left of centre, and I think that clouds and changes and gets more complicated the older you get.”
On the topic of the rise in university fees, Jones declares that he “was always against that.”
“I think that one of the great things about this country has been the opportunity to go somewhere and explore your creativity, and I think it’s a terrible thing that it’s gone,” he says.
With this in mind, Jones’ advice for anyone wanting to succeed in their chosen field is simple.
“My advice would be to write personal letters to everybody at the very top.” Jones holds his hand fairly low and continues, “If you write a letter to someone here, they’re not going to have any interest in you because they are far more concerned with themselves. Up it goes, and people take a little bit more interest.”
“You’ve got to look for opportunities. You’ve got to make opportunities and work really hard, but you also need to be lucky.”
“It is possible to make luck, but I don’t know how,” Jones says, and with a chuckle adds: ‘That’s magic.”