The family man from Crouch End who runs one of the country's top lads' mags
When I imagine the editor of a lads mag, I conjure up someone like Piers Morgan – tall and slim with slick dark hair and a sweaty handshake, who fixes his glare a little below the neckline and guffaws deeply. Ben Todd, editor of Zoo magazine, could not
When I imagine the editor of a lads' mag, I conjure up someone like Piers Morgan - tall and slim with slick dark hair and a sweaty handshake, who fixes his glare a little below the neckline and guffaws deeply.
Ben Todd, editor of Zoo magazine, could not be further from that image. The 35-year-old married father of two lives in Crouch End and is a self-described "baldy".
In fact, sitting in the magazine's conference room in Oxford Street, surrounded by a wall of topless women and flashy cars, he looks out of place.
That's because he is. Todd studied philosophy and modern history at Manchester University and planned on becoming a political reporter.
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Born in Blackpool to a lawyer father and teacher mother, he moved to Devon aged eight before going to boarding school in West Sussex where he was made to wear cassocks, breeches and yellow stockings.
After a brief stint trying to make it in a rock band, where his group K-Track were swiftly signed, rose to number eight in the indie charts, were watched by Noel Gallagher at a gig, and then fell apart, he chose a journalism career.
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"I'm quite opinionated and lots of family friends were journalists," he says. "Initially I wanted to be a political reporter at the Guardian because of my degree, and politics had always been an interest. But in journalism, when the opportunity arises, you just go for it."
Bizarrely, that opportunity was at women's magazine That's Life.
"It taught me loads and loads," he recalls. "You learn to have no shame. You just plough on and blush a bit."
It was there he met future wife Caroline, who was chief feature writer and who had lived in Highgate and Crouch End her whole life. They married in June 2000 and have two children - son Alex, nine, and daughter Ava, four.
"When I first met my wife, she would say Crouch End is brilliant and I thought, 'I don't even know it.' I realised when I started visiting the area that it was lovely and brilliant and everything she'd said about it was true," he says.
And so in 2002, when Caroline was nine months pregnant, they moved to Crouch End to set up home together. After two years at That's Life, Todd moved to the News of the World as a reporter but after five months was offered the role of deputy pop editor at the Daily Star, and was soon promoted to showbiz editor.
In 2003 he became assistant editor of the showbiz section at the Sunday Mirror, and during his showbiz years, became best known for blowing the top on the Beckham affair and revealing Paul McCartney's marriage troubles. In 2007, he became editor of Zoo.
"I'd been working on the bread and butter of showbiz scoops for eight years and I fancied a change. Zoo was a really exciting and different thing to take on," he says.
"What I'm trying to push at Zoo and one of the reasons I presume they hired me from newspapers was to increase the showbiz news, the current affairs agenda, the sports and the heavy word features. Since I came, it's more serious, more newsy, with better sports coverage and more of the week's news."
Zoo currently has a weekly circulation of more than 160,000, 30,000 more than GQ sells in a month. It was created almost five years ago by Emap (which has now been taken over by Camden-based Bauer) to compete with IPC Media's best selling lads' weekly, Nuts. The first editor, Paul Merrill described its content as "sex, sport and all-round stupidity."
For those who have not seen a copy of Zoo high up there on the newsagent stands, the magazine is, in Todd's words, "aimed at boys and men aged 16 to 30. It has girls, it has sport, it has showbiz news, it has comedy, it has gadgets, it has cars".
Over recent months, Zoo has created its own headlines. In February, Prince Harry was photographed flicking through the Valentine's issue in the back of an armoured jeep.
And in August, Shadow minister for children, schools and families Michael Gove made a speech blaming lads' mags for the deterioration of family values. "Titles such as Nuts and Zoo paint a picture of women as permanently, lasciviously, uncomplicatedly available," he said.
"We should ask those who make profits out of revelling in, or encouraging, selfish irresponsibility among young men, what they think they're doing."
"It sounded to me like a cheap headline," Todd responds. "I thought he hadn't read the magazine. Afterwards, he wrote me a letter asking if he could meet up to hear my views in private."
Todd argues there is a perfectly good reason for the topless pictures: "People have always used glamorous pictures, of men and women, to sell a product or a film. The models we have are paid very good salaries and no one forces them to pose topless. They are very successful business women. I would argue that this is emancipation and not exploitation."
And, according to Todd, the magazine is misunderstood. "We use the pictures as an entry point," he argues. "We are more of an interesting read than people give us credit for. We tend to do a hard news feature every week. We sent one of our reporters to Iraq for a week with the troops in July. We've done loads of pages like that. We've recently done something with the prime minister and something on the Georgian situation. If this magazine only showed pictures of naked women, would I be editing it? No."
Todd feels that, after drawing the readers in, he has a big responsibility: "The guys who read our magazine are the guys who could be influenced one way or another. Guys who are 16 or 17 and thinking 'should we get a knife or not' are more likely to take notice of what Zoo says than what the Daily Mail says."
It seems this combination of sex appeal and serious issues has had a positive effect on Todd himself.
"It's made me feel younger again," he says. "I'm fitter and healthier. I've probably lost a stone. After nine years of wearing a suit ever day I realised I was the editor of Zoo and didn't need to wear one.
"Other blokes think it's a great job and I can't say I've regretted any part of it."
And how do his children feel about daddy's job?
"My son walks into Tesco with his mates and they peer up, and I think my wife just moves them along quickly," Todd says. "My son thinks it's a great job, even though he's not allowed to look at themagazine. He's not our target audience - yet.