Wednesday 21 August 2019

The year was 1997…

Why the things that bring us together endure

Illustration by Signs of Power
Illustration by Signs of Power
Leslie Ann Horgan

Leslie Ann Horgan

"From today your weekend is different," read the bold pronouncement on the front page. It was November 15, 1997, and the Irish Independent was launching an exciting new product - a stylish new magazine that would come free with each Saturday's newspaper.

"Tailor made for weekend reading," the introduction continued, the new magazine would feature "a stunning mix of interviews, stories and quality of life features". There would be a "state-of-the-art cookery section with recipes as simple as A-B-C, fabulous fashion pages and sumptuous interiors spreads" all coupled with "a blend of stylistic design and fine writing". And there would be colour - 64 pages of full colour, in a time when newspapers were for the most part black and white.

Fizzing with energy, laden with talent and bursting with colour, Weekend magazine had arrived.

Not that I noticed.

This month also marks my own anniversary with Weekend magazine. Three years ago, I took on the role of editor, and in the time since it has been my privilege to steer the course of a publication which genuinely holds a place in the hearts of the Irish public. Many of you will have been reading Weekend since its bright beginning 20 years ago this week. But in 1997, when the magazine was busy forging a new path in Irish journalism, I was a month shy of my 16th birthday - and largely shy of the rest of the world.

Having trawled through the clippings to put together this special anniversary edition of Weekend, I decided to take a look at my own archive - aka the tattered copybooks-turned-diaries that I kept.

The tome for 1997 is covered in stickers that had come free with Smash Hits, the pop music magazine for teens that, much to my grief, had ceased publishing the previous year. Some of the acts featured in my colourful collage, like Celine Dion and Oasis - the fresh-faced Gallagher brothers photographed in moody black and white - have endured. Others, such as Backstreet Boys and East 17 are no more. (My diary also contains the autograph of E17's Brian Harvey, who has signed it '2' rather than 'to' me. You just don't get that kind of cool with a selfie.)

One sticker reads "Joe Wicks - Mad For It", in reference to the EastEnders character played by Paul Nicholls (not today's peppy personal trainer). Given that the character was experiencing schizophrenia, "mad for it" doesn't seem like the most sensitive of slogans, but perhaps those were less PC times… I certainly seem to have been 'mad for' heartthrob Nicholls, who features heavily in my diary alongside Freddie Prinze Junior, Jamie Theakston (cringe!) and George Clooney - then starring in ER as Dr Doug Ross and with barely a grey hair.

Television was a huge part of my 15-year-old life, and the week's viewing also included Friends, Quantum Leap and Early Edition. But above all else, it was The X-Files that obsessed me with the kind of fervour that only a teenager could summon. If ever their tapes are lost, the programme makers can consult my diary for a blow-by-blow account of every episode of Mulder and Scully's paranormal adventures.

That's not to suggest that I was a reclusive child. Indeed, the pages feature plenty of slumber parties and cinema trips. At the midterm break, I went to my first proper disco, then called Club G but better known as The Grove to the generations before me. "What a night!" I wrote, before detailing the crush of teenage bodies and hormones in the school-hall discotheque. The music was great and the atmosphere brilliant, I gushed, but I was sorry that I'd worn jeans, as no boys showed any interest in me - unlike my friend with her layered 'Rachel' haircut and wrap-around skirt.

Musings on boys, predictably, fill up many of the handwritten pages of the diary, but, terrified of the opposite sex, I seemed more content to document the flirtations of my friends than to have any of my own. In the shifting sands of adolescent friendships, I often wrote about feeling left out. But elsewhere, my views of others - even my closest friends - are dismissive and occasionally cruel.

The thing that loomed largest in my life in 1997 was my Junior Certificate. The mocks were "mostly okay", I recorded on February 11, with the exception of Maths Paper Two, which I rather ineloquently "made a balls of". In May, I wrote about feeling sick with worry about the approaching exams, describing myself as "mega panicky and stressed and depressed". By June 15, however, they were done and forgotten. With the delights of summer upon me, the diary entries became less frequent and eventually petered out.

It was the last diary that I ever kept, partly because my sister and cousin (aged eight and seven respectively) had uncovered it and took great delight in relaying the contents to our parents, and partly because I was finally growing beyond my own myopic view of the world.

So, there you have it: the 1997 musings of a 15-year-old whose to-do list included "buy the Spice Up Your Life single" and "read Wuthering Heights".

Just like Weekend, my diary was filled with TV and food and fashion and travel and stories - and people. Proof, if needed, that 20 years doesn't change the things that matter to us. Or as the tag line for that first magazine put it: "All in one magazine, the very best of Irish life. Don't miss it."

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