‘Let’s get someone to eat human flesh’: The demented history of Loaded

... From cannibalism to Hunter S. Thompson.

Hunter S. Thompson was one of Loaded’s biggest fans
Gunzo Loaded’s style was so up the street of gonzo godfather Hunter S. Thompson he got copies posted to his Arizona ranch. Image Picture Michael Ochs Archives

“Let’s do a feature on cannibalism. Let’s pay someone to write about what it’s like to eat human flesh. They could write it up like a food review and put in what wine’s best with it and get a chef to make recommendations for seasoning and shit like that.”

“Where the fuck do you get human meat?”

“I dunno. Send some fucker to Vietnam or Thailand or into the jungle to get some, they always have mad shit out there. Send them to see some cannibal tribe.”

A third philosopher chipped in, “Yeah, they do loads of crazy shit in Vietnam. My mate was just there and said he ate a monkey’s brain at a restaurant while the monkey was still alive. Maybe we should just get somebody to write about eating a live monkey if we can’t get any human meat.”

So went a genuine conversation between Loaded staff in an idea’s conference at the height of the magazine’s powers (as recalled by a staff member who wishes to remain nameless for the sake of the crumbling remnants of their career.)

“There were fucking insane amounts of drug-taking at Loaded”

Most of the staff at the meeting – held, as usual, in the de-facto conference room of a pub – had started drinking champagne at 11am and were off their tits on the coke they had taken to openly hoovering up in the office.

Other brainfart sessions spiralled into debates on how to create features that would involve firing dwarves out of cannons – decades before Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill debated in The Wolf Of Wall Street the technicalities of using Lilliputian folk for office entertainment.

The magazine later managed to involve little people in features, but didn’t get around to the Hannibal Lecter or monkey brain food reviews.

Loaded’s founding editor James Brown has joked that when he was recently offered the chance to write a screenplay about his rollercoaster ride at Loaded he could have called it The Wolf Of Wardour Street as the experience was so close to the debauchery of The Wolf Of Wall Street.

The magazine’s former editor-at-large Bill Borrows once summed up his employment there by saying, “There were fucking insane amounts of drug-taking at Loaded.”

Loaded was in print from May 1994 to May 2015 and, before its new incarnation as an online magazine, the title had its extreme highs and depressing lows.

At its peak it was a mad, bad and – for the staff who ended up in rehab – dangerous publication that became part of the UK’s naively hopeful Cool Britannia high.

 


 

The Right Stuff

Gary Oldman was Loaded’s first cover star
Vicious success Gary Oldman, pictured playing Sid Vicious in 1986’s Sid And Nancy, was Loaded’s first cover star. Image Picture Everett/REX Shutterstock

Loaded’s first May ’94 issue was published the month after Blur released their Parklife album and Oasis’ debut single Supersonic had started to trouble the charts. Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting had just been released.

Loaded was one of those things, like Oasis, Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, in the right place at the right time.

The other men’s magazines around in May ’94 were wanky, London-centric fashion ‘bibles’. The Internet as we know it was in its infancy, so the market had a gaping hole for the juggernaut Loaded became. There was no design to the magazine – the whole thing was a fluke.

Founding editor James Brown was told by publishers IPC he wasn’t being given the editorship of NME, but was offered the chance to create a new magazine. When he came up with the idea of producing a men’s magazine that would be an unashamed love-letter to everyday men’s lifestyles, it was expected to die at birth.

Brown’s colleagues dubbed it ‘Folded’ before it launched.

As the first issue, featuring Gary Oldman smoking a fag and looking menacing, were shipped to newsagents, the publisher at owners IPC had a framed certificate hammered to his wall that read, ‘For the magazine launch most likely to cost you your job’. (The message parodied the tagline on the cover of Loaded: ‘For men who should know better’.)

Loaded promised to ‘cheer up Britain’s newsstands’ after Kurt Cobain’s suicide

The Evening Standard ran an article saying men would never read a magazine with the same appetite as women read their titles, and the magazine’s first team weren’t treated well. Brown and his staff of three were on three-month freelance contracts and stuck in the corner of the same office as a magazine called Amateur Gardener. Journalists had to send faxes asking for interviews on paper with the Amateur Gardener logo.

They didn’t care: Brown said his hiring ethos had been to employ ‘nutcases’.

An ad printed before Loaded’s launch promised it would be ‘cheer up Britain’s newsstands’. It was another accident of marketing as just after the ad came out, three weeks before the magazine was on the shelves, Kurt Cobain killed himself. His shotgun suicide plunged teens around the world into a grungy grief Loaded later helped relieve.

The working title for Loaded had been The Right Stuff.

Many have fought to claim ownership of the final title of ‘Loaded’, but there’s no doubt the inspiration came from Primal Scream’s 1990 hit of the same name.

The Peter Fonda sample at the start of Scream’s song goes, “Just what is it that you want to do? We wanna be free, we wanna be free to do what we wanna do. And we wanna get loaded. And we wanna have a good time. That’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna have a good time. We’re gonna have a party.” Loaded ended up doing just that.

The fresh lunacy

Oliver Reed was one of Loaded’s biggest inspirations
Handsome devil Loaded’s founder James Brown quoted Oliver Reed in The Devils in his first editor’s letter. Image Picture Everett/REX Shutterstock

Brown introduced the debut edition with an editor’s letter that asked, ‘What fresh lunacy is this?’ He was quoting Oliver Reed in Ken Russell’s The Devils – and Olly later became a regular on Loaded’s ‘Platinum Rogues’ pages, which revelled in celebrities’ bad behaviour.

Brown continued in his first editor’s note, ‘Loaded is a new magazine dedicated to life, liberty and the pursuit of sex, drink, football and less serious matters. Loaded is music, film, relationships, humour, travel, sport, hard news and popular culture. Loaded is clubbing, drinking, eating, playing and eating. Loaded is for the man who believes he can do anything, if only he wasn’t hungover.’

The first issue – featuring Oldman plus pieces on Paul Weller, Eric Cantona, Withnail & I and hotel sex – sold a disappointing 59,400 copies.

Two weeks after publication, two sacks of fan mail arrived at the Amateur Garden office. Loaded got to move offices soon after the letters stared to pour in.

Brown said he packed his things in the office Loaded once shared with Amateur Gardener to the sound of Underworld’s Born Slippy.

By ’97 Loaded was so well-established New York’s Vanity Fair included it in their iconic Cool Britannia issue, with Liam Gallagher and Patsy Kensit on the cover. You know the one…

Patsy Kensit and Liam Gallagher on a Union Flag bedspread for Vanity Fair’s Cool Britannia special

 

Vanity Fair gushed about Loaded, ‘It’s a men’s magazine… but it differs from other men’s magazines in that it makes no attempt to seem cool or conform to anyone’s notion of journalistic propriety.’

New Labour’s landslide victory in May ’97 sparked hope in Britain and Loaded staff went to the same parties as Damien Hirst, Kate Moss, Ewan McGregor, Oasis, Blur and the rest of the ‘Britpop’ crowd. It didn’t matter back then it was all smoke and mirrors – the party was too good to see anything else.

Noel Gallagher later put it, “I didn’t have a crystal ball. I didn’t see Tony Blair was going to turn into a cunt. I was 30, off me head on drugs, and everyone telling me we were the greatest band since who knows. Then the Prime Minister invites you round for a glass of wine. It all becomes part of the high.”

“Loaded arrived at the party, pissed, pissed off, carrying drugs and looking for trouble”

Loaded’s story arc was similar to Gallagher’s.

By ’98 every issue was selling close to 500,000 copies.

Loaded had helped establish Britain as ‘cool’ again. It wanted to celebrate, to revel in its love of good music, literary writing, quality films, blood-sweat-and-tears football as well as drink, drugs, comedy and pissing about in general. In short, it wanted to have a good time.

Looking back it is astonishing there wasn’t a publication like it already to celebrate life’s good times. Once there was, men flocked to Loaded as a monthly salvation.

Bill Borrows summed up the success when he said, “Loaded was based on the premise that the vast majority of men did not live in an up-and-coming London district and would rather play snooker in the back room of a bar in Manchester with Alex Higgins, or at least read about it, than find out whatever the latest airbrushed clown was eating to keep in shape. Loaded arrived at the party, pissed, pissed off, carrying drugs and looking for trouble.”

The talent

Catherine Zeta-Jones poses for Loaded magazine
Zeta than honey Zeta-Jones was one of the talents Loaded helped discover. Image ©Loaded Digital Archive

Cover stars included Damon Albarn, Cameron Diaz, Dennis Hopper, Denis Leary, Angelina Jolie, Catherine Zeta-Jones, future England manager Kevin Keegan as well as rising comedians Harry Hill, Frank Skinner and David Baddiel and Jack Dee.

The interviews were nothing like the media-trained drool that pass for a cover features now, and stars went further than they ever had before in photoshoots for Loaded.

Diaz went skinny dipping for her first and only naked magazine shoot; Jolie stripped in a hotel room and waved about knives while she chatted about rumours she had shagged her brother and Albarn went into detail about cunnilingus and his bisexual side.

The magazine also had a knack for spotting fresh talent, with Sacha Baron Cohen modelling donkey jackets in a fashion spread. The Office Pest cartoon was created by the men who went on to make Modern Toss, and Charlie Brooker wrote a feature called TVGoHome – spoof telly listings in which Nathan Barley originated.

The fans

John Lydon was yet another Loaded fan
Singing Loaded’s praises John Lydon was such a fan of Loaded he rang the office to tell staff, “It’s so good it should be banned.” Image Portrait Matt Carr/Getty Images

As Loaded’s circulation grew, executives couldn’t argue with the magazine’s policy of sending reporters around the world to bring back stories – and huge expenses bills.

Some of the travel features were built around drink and drugs. Loaded ran the ‘Vodka World Cup’ as an excuse to order in exotic varieties of the spirit. Other articles were brazen jollies with no attempt made to cover them up – one was called ‘Loaded staff sleep on an island for a week’.

Other stories involved sending reporters to party with football hooligans, take drugs at all-night raves and watch sex rituals in Italy. 

Hunter S. Thompson was posted copy of the magazine and agreed to work with it on the strength of the issue. John Lydon rang the office to tell staff, “It’s so good it should be banned.”

The Dice Man

Loaded’s Dice Man took heroin and dumped a girlfriend
Low roller Loaded’s Dice Man (posed here by model) tried heroin on ‘orders’ from the dice. Image Picture REX Features

The drugs and chaos culture were reflected in the regular features.

For a year writer Ben Marshall lived life writing Loaded’s own Dice Man series. Based on the cult Luke Rhinehart book, Marshall handed control of his life choices to rolls of a dice.

Marshall went as far as doing heroin on the back of what the dice told him. Other staff soon started hearing voices in their heads.

The Pornalikes

Pornalikes were an essential part of Loaded for a time
Jack off Just one of Loaded’s many pornalikes – a XXX version of Jack Nicholson.

Loaded’s Pornalikes was born out of its staff watching a lot of porn. They involved reprinting pictures of porn stars in compromising situations who resembled famous faces.

During Euro ’96, England manager Terry Venables said he found it hard to get his players to stop reading Loaded while he was trying to give team talks.

The semen shortage

Paula Yates was another of Loaded’s celebrity fans
Another wild fan Paula Yates used to read Loaded to former husband Bob Geldof and summed up the magazine’s ethos by saying its readers’ biggest dream was to lie in bed with a beautiful woman, eating crisps and watching football. Image Picture Tom Wargacki Archive

Loaded’s success was such in the late-’90s it started to worry politicians. Irate ministers got together to ask questions in parliament about whether Loaded was corrupting the minds of men.

A fertility clinic in Birmingham bizarrely blamed the magazine for inspiring laziness in young men and said semen donations were down because young fellas had better things to do, such as frequent the clubs and pubs recommended by Loaded.

Stars began to tell staff during interviews that if they weren’t celebrities their second job choice would be to work at Loaded.

Paula Yates said she loved the magazine, and more cover stars rolled in, including Leslie Nielsen, Denis Leary, Elle ‘The Body’ Macpherson, Prince Naseem, Jimmy White. Later Judge Dredd and The Simpsons got covers.

When Kylie was put on the cover, staff thought her pictures spoke for themselves so loudly, they couldn’t be bothered including an interview.

 “I knew it was time to slow down and get out when I heard a discussion between other staff asking if there was enough heroin left for an office day trip to Brighton”

Industry awards rolled in and Loaded started to print reporters’ mistakes because bosses thought their factual errors were so funny.

A story often told by Brown is how feature writer Martin Deeson was dispatched to cover the Cannes film festival, but ended up calling the office from Connes – a small fishing town in Normandy.

Imitators began to crawl out of the woodwork, including Maxim in the US. TFI Friday and They Think It’s All Over were dubbed ‘Versions of Loaded magazine, just on telly’. And Loaded’s legacy can still be seen everywhere from talkSPORT to Top Gear and the popularity of This Is England ’90. Despite the copyists, reading the original magazine remained exhilarating at the time – and still does. Working there wasn’t after a while.

The coke (and heroin, and booze) casualties

Scarface-sized mounds of cocaine were snorted by Loaded staff
Where’s my leedle white friend? Scarface-sized mountains of bolivian were hoovered by Loaded staff, but things came unstuck when some started doing heroin at work. Image Picture Moviestore/REX Features

Inevitably, some of the original staffers crashed and burned. Two writers ended up in rehab. Another spent six months in a mental health institution. One was left brain-damaged after a motorcycle crash. Brown himself left in 1997 saying later he feared if he worked there any longer he would end up as an addict.

Brown had wanted editing the magazine to be like going on tour with the Rolling Stones in the ’60s – and he got what he wanted.

Reporter Jon Wilde later told Brown, “I knew it was time to slow down and get out when I heard a discussion between other staff asking if there was enough heroin left for an office day trip to Brighton.” Yet the party refused to die.

The big boob

Pin-ups had taken over Loaded by 2008
Boobed Vapid pin-ups were idiotically allowed to sully Loaded. At least Mike Strutter’s inclusion in the magazine during the period was a wise decision. Image Picture Ferdaus Shamim/WireImage

When features fell through for Loaded in the early days the habit had developed of including a picture of a glamour girl with the message, ‘In case of emergency’.

Lots of what the magazine did now looks dated – because, like so many good things that look dated, it was. It was an ode to a moment in time.

The biggest mistake of Loaded bosses, however, was refusing to move with the times, and grow with the magazine’s readers as their music tastes changed, they stopped drinking and getting high as much and got into jobs and started families.

Instead, the magazine went downhill around 2002. Or rather, tits up.

For more than 10 years, the title was sent on a colossally misdirected journey that involved including Z-list pin-ups in a bid to compete with Zoo, Nuts and FHM. Equally misguided editors went along with it, forgetting it was once a magazine that championed quality writing and counter-culture.

The tits sold the title for a while. But circulation soon spiralled suicidally downward, proving ‘lads’ mags’ were well and truly dead.

As Borrows wrote about the middle years of Loaded, when publishers, advertisers and editors filled its pages with tat, ‘The ethos was – increase the nipple count, forget the words and drive the sales’.

The resurrection 

Léa Seydoux helped the rebirth of Loaded as a quality magazine
Rebirth Léa Seydoux, pictured in Blue is The Warmest Colour, appeared as a cover star in 2015, helping return Loaded to its quality roots. Image Picture Moviestore/REX Shutterstock

For its final year as a magazine, Loaded was finally back to its roots and a Who’s Who of A-listers and writers returned to the fold.

In its final 12 months on shelves, there were interviews with cover stars Pharrell Williams, Al Pacino, Ben Affleck, Idris Elba, Léa Seydoux and Noel Gallagher.

The roll-call of interviewees from 2014 to 2015 included (in no particular order) Christian Bale, Eddie Redmayne, Monica Bellucci, Ray Winstone, James Franco, Olga Kurylenko, Nile Rodgers, Pierce Brosnan, Paul Weller, Kristen Stewart, Katie Holmes, Nick Mason, Nicolas Cage, Guy Pearce, Emma Stone, Jennifer Garner, Kasabian, Amir Khan, Jamie Dornan, Stephen Graham, Slash, Katherine Ryan, Jimmy Page, Marilyn Manson, Andy Serkis, David Beckham, Mark Wahlberg, Wesley Snipes, Alan McGee, Bonehead, Liam Neeson, Keira Knightley, Ryan Gosling, Johnny Marr, Goldie, Chloë Moretz, George Ezra, Michael Caine, Ricki Hall, Charli XCX, Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Patricia Arquette, Carl Barât and Will Ferrell.

The original Loaded team wanted to libel the richest celebrities, stick on a price of FREE, put an arse with a stick of dynamite shoved up it on the cover and rename the mag ExpLoaded

Just as it had in its glory days, the magazine also championed new talent in art, comedy, music, film, literature, fashion, technology, TV, radio and sport.

Columnists included Kill Your Friends author John Niven, Julie Burchill, Jack Dee, Jerry Sadowitz and Howard Marks – who wrote a philosophical agony uncle column after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. There were pieces by Irvine Welsh and Loaded’s original gonzo journalist Martin Deeson, and the magazine’s Hedonist’s Handbook guided readers through the best developments in eating, drinking, clubbing, travelling, drugging and pubbing.

Reporters were sent abroad for features again. Loaded went on the Pablo Escobar drug tour – way before Narcos was on Netflix. Darren Gough dabbled in investigative journalism by going undercover to expose a cigarette smuggling ring. We interviewed three of Britain’s most prolific hitmen and three of its most notorious witnesses still in police protection.

We broke the story Irvine Welsh was working on Trainspotting 2, stayed at America’s most brutal Death Row prison, went on the road with bands, stayed in Britain’s largest underground nuclear shelter, investigated computer hacking with an FBI advisor and discovered the world’s most precious beer at a monastery in Belgium.

Between 2014 and 2015 Loaded sent Donal MacIntyre to investigate the phenomenon of Mexican drug gangs who were using cannibalism as a form of intimidation on rivals. MacIntyre didn’t go as far as tasting human meat with any of the savages, so the idea of doing a review on what human flesh tastes like is still on the to-do list.

The print run

Philip Seymour Hoffman was voted Loaded’s Man Of The Year after his death
Top class Philip Seymour Hoffman was anointed Loaded’s 2014 Man Of The Year. Image Portrait Mark Mainz/Getty Images

The result of rebranding Loaded was two award nominations from the Professional Publishers Association, including one for editor Aaron Tinney as Game Changer Of 2015.

Founding editor James Brown said he started to look at the magazine again for the first time in a decade. Before Loaded stopped appearing as a print magazine, the inaugural Loaded Men Of The Year awards were introduced – and the No 1 spot went to the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Hoffman’s appearance at the top of the poll was apt. Soon after Hoffman was awarded Man Of The Year, the magazine with a troubled history came to an end.

Bill Borrows has told how the original Loaded team once had a meeting to discuss what they would produce if they only had one more magazine. They decided they would libel the richest celebrities, use photos they had been barred from printing by publicists, stick on a price of FREE, put an arse with a stick of dynamite shoved up it as the cover picture and rename the mag EXploaded.

Their idea would have looked a bit outdated on the cover of what was to become the final print edition of Loaded.

So, the last issue became a tasteful tribute to the magazine’s roots. It featured Noel Gallagher on the cover, with Irvine Welsh interviewing the High Flying Bird.

The Gallagher shoot was a homage to the first cover, as you can see below.

Gary Oldman and Noel Gallagher on the cover of the first and last Loaded magazine covers
The beginning and the end Loaded’s rich print history, bookended by Gary Oldman and Noel Gallagher. Image ©Loaded Digital Limited Archive

The future

Timothy Spall’s Vanilla Sky character Thomas Tipp wanted the masses to read magazines again
‘People will read again!’ Timothy Spall’s character in Vanilla Sky dreamed of the masses returning to quality writing to nurture their brains. Image Picture Paramount

After exactly 21 years in print, Loaded has relaunched as loaded.co.uk.

The online magazine stands for the same principles as the first and last editions of the magazine.

As Thomas Tipp yells at Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky, “People will read again!”

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