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Thursday, 25 January, 2001, 14:54 GMT
Boycott's climb to the top

Rosie Boycott has had a dramatic career
Rosie Boycott, who has just left her post as editor of the Daily Express, is one of the most flamboyant and controversial figures in the British media.

In 1996, she became the first woman to edit a national broadsheet when she took over the Independent on Sunday.

But her career - and her lifestyle - were once as far away from the Establishment as she could get.

After leaving Cheltenham Ladies' College, Ms Boycott dropped out of Kent University to go to London to work on the underground press scene of the late 1960s.

In 1971, she joined Friends magazine, which had "a slave who used to ring us up and then come along and clean the stairs naked".

She later spoke of how disappointed she was to find that all the women in the paper merely typed, while "the boys were editing and having the fun".

Ms Boycott had never learned to type - "a very valuable thing not to have done".

Drink and drugs

From there, she helped found feminist magazine Spare Rib, which published its first issue on her 21st birthday.

But a lifestyle of drink and drugs took over, and in 1973 she was jailed in Thailand for 18 days for smuggling cannabis.

Independent on Sunday
Her pro-cannabis campaign led to the nickname "Rizla Rosie"
In 1981 she checked herself into a clinic, later writing about her experiences in her 1984 autobiography A Nice Girl Like Me. She now puts her old lifestyle down to "low self-esteem".

During the 1980s Ms Boycott rebuilt her journalistic career, and in 1992 she took over as editor of Esquire magazine, where she almost doubled its circulation.

'Rizla Rosie'

Four years later, she moved to the Independent on Sunday, where she started a campaign to legalise cannabis, which saw her address a march on Trafalgar Square. It earned her the nickname "Rizla Rosie".

Two years later she moved to the Daily Express - where she appeared to face an impossible task, to revive the fortunes of the once-mighty title, which suffered from plummeting sales and an ageing readership.

But many people wondered how readers of the Express - once the most loyal gun in the Tory media arsenal - would react to Ms Boycott, who promised a campaigning title which would "set a torch under the middle market".

Her changes to the paper - which included the appointment of the country's first correspondent devoted to gay issues - were widely praised by critics and people in the newspaper business. But they were not a success in circulation terms.

Circulation fall

When she took over, the paper's circulation was about 1.2 million and under her editorship circulation continued to fall.

The paper was recruiting new readers, but losing older ones more quickly.

Despite this there were limits to the extent of her campaigning zeal.

Srichand Hinduja
Srichand Hinduja: Ms Boycott wanted him to take over the Express
As nominal editor-in-chief of both the Express and its Sunday sister, she was deeply embarrassed by the publication in the Sunday of a story detailing Peter Mandelson's relationship with a young Brazilian man.

Soon afterwards, Sunday Express editor Amanda Platell left her job.

The decision of the Express owner Lord Hollick to put the paper up for sale last year destabilised the paper and caused Ms Boycott much grief.

Desmond takeover

It was no secret in media circles that Ms Boycott wanted the Hinduja brothers - in the news this week as a result of Peter Mandelson's resignation - to take over the paper.

But OK! magazine publisher Richard Desmond, who made his money publishing soft porn magazines, stepped in, buying the two Express titles and the Daily Star in November 2000.

Boycott and Desmond fell out at once and, in the end, were communicating only by e-mail. Morale inside the Express collapsed as the new management regime ordered rounds of job cuts.

Rosie Boycott's departure was only a matter of time.

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See also:

25 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Rosie Boycott quits Express
25 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Daily Express: A chequered history
25 Jan 01 | Entertainment
A resignation waiting to happen
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