Flying start I was born in Ely, Cambridgeshire (in Britain). I was brought up all over because my Dad was in the air force – Malta, Cyprus, (what seemed like) every county in the UK, all over the place. Then I moved to London when I was 16.
From the age of about 12, 13, all I really wanted to do was go to art school. I was obsessive about going to art school. So I did. I went to Chelsea School of Art in 1977 and then Saint Martin’s in 1978.
New horizons There was a newspaper called the New Musical Express, which has just closed its final print issue, and, in the early 1970s, it was read by about a quarter of a million people every week. It had amazing journalists in it, people like Charles Shaar Murray and Nick Kent, and then Tony Parsons and Paul Morley. It was a window into many worlds using music. It informed lots of my opinions and got me excited about everything from film to theatre to politics.
Finding the groove I was a drummer. A terrible drummer. I was in a band and we played a gig on a boat. My drum kit actually moved across the boat because it wasn’t fixed to the floor. It was awful.
For a while, I was a cocktail barman at The Fridge, which was a big club in London, but I didn’t do it for very long. The guy who used to collect glasses there was an actor called Tim Roth, who went on to some success.
I was lots of things. I was a film extra. I shot down Roger Moore’s plane in Octopussy. I was in a very bad vampire movie with Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie called The Hunger. I had lots of stupid jobs when I was young.
Big break I was 22 or 23, and a friend of mine was taking pictures for a magazine called i-D and he needed someone to interview the people he was photographing. In those days, the questions were: “What colour are your socks?” and, “How much do you hate Margaret Thatcher?”
I had nothing else to do, so I helped him out. I wrote up the interviews on an old Remington typewriter – one of the famous red ones – that my father had given me, and I sent them in.
The editor of i-D – the man who started the magazine and still a very good friend – was Terry Jones and he basically called me up and said, “Do you want a job?” And that was it. I started working for Terry and, as soon as I did, I realised that I didn’t want to do anything else.
I became good at it, because I had no aptitude at all. I sort of grew up in public. I couldn’t write. I wanted to, but I couldn’t. But I was very lucky. If I hadn’t got that telephone call from Terry Jones, I have no idea what I’d be doing. Literally. I’m eternally grateful.
London calling The mid ’80s was a very intoxicating time to be in London. It was our version of the Swinging Sixties and it was an absolute moment in time. You really felt that London was alive and there was this sort of mad confluence of art, money, fashion, music, politics … a lot going on. We were in the middle of what became known rather dismissively as style culture.
There were three important magazines: i-D, The Face and, to a lesser extent, Blitz. They all launched within three months of each other in 1980. We began to catalogue the decade, and we were cataloguing it as we were sort of inventing it, and it felt very exciting. I feel very privileged to have been involved with those magazines and those people during that time. It was a really great time in journalism.
The write stuff When I became editor, in 1999, GQ had a reputation, a deserved reputation, for being a yuppie bible. If you wanted to know about cars or fashion or food or travel or furniture, you’d find it in GQ. What it wasn’t renowned for was great journalism.
I wanted to inject great journalism into it, which is what we did. We went out and hired the very best broadsheet writers we could find: A.A. Gill, Boris Johnson, Tom Wolfe, lots of people. And it has won lots of awards for its journalism, which I’m very proud of.
Just the job There’s a lot of travel. There’s a lot of meetings. There’s a lot of photo shoots. There’s a lot of editing. There’s a lot of screaming – not actually screaming, but a lot of discussion in the office. It’s frenetic, but it’s fun.
And it ought to be fun because you’re trying to make magic. It’s hard work and it’s complicated and challenging. But it’s a great world. If you don’t like working in that world, if you can’t thrive and enjoy it, you shouldn’t be in it. It’s a fantastic way to earn a living.
Journey to the east I’ve spent so much time in Hong Kong and China in the past 15 years because there are more interesting things happening here. It’s open. It’s exciting in terms of everything from restaurant culture to arts to architecture, music, fashion in particular. There’s momentum here.
On the upJournalism has been devalued recently by market forces, by Facebook, by fake news, by the fact that nobody wants to pay for anything any more. But I think you’re starting to see a resurgence.
The New York Times has released very good figures, The Guardian model seems to be working. And my 17-year-old daughter has asked me for a subscription to (news magazine) The Week, which is very, very important in my household.
Digging stardust My heroes growing up were David Bowie and Tom Wolfe. Wolfe inspired me to be a writer and I’ve always been obsessed with Bowie. I’ve just written a book on Bowie [David Bowie: A Life] that came out last year. He wasn’t a close friend, but I knew him very well for a very long time. It was completely implausible, unbelievable, that he should die so quickly at such a young age.
He’s obviously got an extraordinary legacy. I think he’s probably as influential, if not more influential, since his death than he was when he was alive. The only other genius in the arts that’s comparable, I think, is Picasso.
I’m looking for another [book] project. Because so much of my work is administrative, I like having something like that where I can be completely, 100 per cent creative.
Dylan Jones was in Hong Kong to speak at the GREAT Festival of Innovation.