Eduardo Sánchez Junco, who has died aged 67, was the man who globalised the exclamation mark.
Having watched his parents create a hugely successful magazine based on reverential gossip for the crowned heads of Europe, Junco oversaw the expansion of ¡Hola!’s distinctive style of “soft fawn” into an international brand – spawning imitators across the world.
Hello!, which was launched in London in 1988, was the first export, but it has since spread to 70 countries and now feeds the appetite of celebrity-watchers in Brazil, Canada, Greece, India, Malaysia, the Gulf states, Morocco, Russia, Serbia, Thailand, and Turkey. The US resisted its charms.
Junco was the impetus behind the drive to give celebrities and aristocrats across the planet a safe haven for the announcements of their lives: births, marriages and, more often than was quite consistent with the fairytale flavour of his magazines, divorce.
A small, dapper man who moved easily among the poshest of the posh, Junco had fixed ideas of what his publications should contain and, even when the titles were in far-flung cities, he retained close control of their contents.
“For the marriage of Pierce Brosnan [the former James Bond actor], we took 7,000 photographs to be sure we had enough that he could choose 20-odd,” Phil Hall, the former editor of the News of the World, who spent 18 months at the helm of Hello! between 2000 and 2002, recalled.
In the words of his own organ, which rarely spoke ill of the living, let alone the dead, Junco was “a gentleman in the true sense of the word, and one whom celebrities and royalty alike found they could trust”.
The last of these qualities was undoubtedly the key to his success in gaining his reporters access to the world of celebrities. One of the myths that surround his career – and one that seems founded in fact – was that he paid £1m for paparazzo photographs of a scantily clad Diana, Princess of Wales, and suppressed them for fear they dishonour the woman who could launch a thousand shiploads of magazines.
It was her death in 1997 that many analysts saw as the beginning of a long night for the revistas del corazon, the royalty and romance-worshipping magazines. In their place came the celebrity-driven publications such as OK!, which might share punctuation marks with Hello!, but had little of its founding sense of honour.
As the diet of Hollywood and footballer celebrities proved healthy for his rival, Junco followed suit. But he retained a warmth for Euro-royals. “He felt strongly we should continue to publish stories about minor members of European monarchies,” Mr Hall recalled. “I didn’t. We agreed to disagree.”
Eduardo Sánchez Junco was born in Palencia, north-east of Valladolid, on April 26, 1943 to Antonio Sánchez Gómez, a senior journalist on the (inevitably) Franco-supporting newspaper, La Prenza, and his wife Mercedes Junco Calderón.
A year after Eduardo’s birth, the couple began publishing what was in effect a gossip sheet, spread over only a few black-and-white pages at first intended to counter the gloom of a Spain that could already see its Fascist regime was not going to end on the winning side in postwar Europe.
While father came up with the copy, mother handled the layout. Occasionally, aged 90, she still does. Eduardo was educated by Jesuits and when he went to the University of Madrid, his father forbade him from studying journalism and he took a degree in agronomy.
But it was inevitable that he would join the family business and he learnt at his parents’ side as they built the modest gossip sheet into a hugely successful magazine, nurturing a reverence for the titled that had been all but extinguished in postwar Europe, lingering only in Franco’s hierarchical Spain and, as it happened, in austerity Britain.
With its royal family recognised around the world, the UK was an obvious target for annexation by the ¡Hola! brand. When Antonio died in 1984, his widow and son began work on exporting the formula. By 1992 Hello!’s circulation had grown at vertiginous speed to 1.3m a week.
The dynamic Junco, who stood about 5ft 4in in his shoes, directed operations by fax and phone from Madrid and requiring even hard-bitten Fleet Street hands such as Mr Hall to learn his language.
In the Marquesa de Valera, a Uruguayan-born socialite, he found the perfect plenipotentiary for his imperial ambitions: a woman prepared to travel the globe, sweet-talk blue-blooded entities and nonentities, knowing when to offer a handwritten cheque and when a mere whiff of hagiography would suffice to open gilded doors.
It was striking that the only time the Hello! bandwagon came close to going off the rails after a high court action in which it was found to have breached the corporate interests of an exclusive deal between OK! and Michael Douglas and his bride Catherine Zeta-Jones, the marquesa and Junco were not on speaking terms. Their double act was the core of Hello!’s success and strategy-planning phone calls from his flat three floors below the office came nightly to her, often at 3am or 4am.
He was, according to the most recent editor of Hello! Kay Goddard, resistant to change, but “nine times out of 10 he was right”.
“He was the editor, really. It was his train set.”
Junco described his magazines as la espuma de la vida, the froth of life, which should be “always tasteful and discreet, never harmful nor judgmental and never descending to gossip, a kind magazine, full of human interest.”
It was a description that could have been made of the man himself.
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