Fitting the profile: how to make it as a magazine cover star

Every profile of a famous person seems to contain a variation on the phrase “my mother always told me”. It may be: “My mother always told me, always make a difference.” Or it could be: “My father always told me, always keep your word.”

In the families of the famous, parents just stand around letting drop these nuggets of wisdom. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” “We must choose our essential nature.”

Follow these tips and you too could be gracing the cover of, um, “Women’s Secret”.Credit:iStock

Sometimes, the grandparents also enter the fray, throwing out nuggets of wisdom like so much chook feed. Questioned by the magazine profile writer, the famous person will confide: “My grandfather always told me that happiness was the key to life.” Or, “My grandmother always told me that everything seems impossible until you do it.”

This is tough on those of us who were never given this sort of philosophical boot camp, so much so that we may never qualify to feature in a Good Weekend cover story.

“What did your mother always tell you?”, the journalist might ask, wondering whether it was the one about manifesting your own dreams, or the one about leaving the world a better place.

“Nothing,” we’d be forced to answer, only to be confronted by a disappointed look. How is the journalist meant to get a cover story out of someone so thoroughly left to their own philosophical devices?

The journalist might persist: “She must have given you some life advice, like the one about living every day as if it were your last, or maybe the one about love being the only point of living?”

“Not really,” we’d be forced to admit, “although she did often advise me to clean my room.”

The profile writer would be incredulous. “What? That’s it? Not the one about following your heart, or the one about pain making us stronger?”

“Not really,” we’d answer. “Although she did insist on regular teeth cleaning and believed wearing thongs was bad for your feet. But that was about it.”

No wonder so few of us have been featured on the cover of magazines. Not only do we lack philosophical advice given to us on our mother’s knee, we also don’t pass muster when it comes to the other things required by a profile writer.

Having read quite a few magazine profiles, when the reporter turns up for the interview you really should be caught doing something interesting having “entirely forgotten” the profile writer was about to arrive. This might involve hand-carving a wooden rabbit, practising fly-fishing in the backyard, or researching the history of the North Canadian fur trade “for a libretto I’m writing”.

Thoughtlessly, many of us would be wearing ordinary clothing when the profile writer arrived. “When I was shown in”, the profile writer would be forced to disclose, “Mary was just sitting there, waiting for me arrive at the appointed time. She was wearing a pair of plain pants, a top of indeterminate colour, and was not doing anything interesting in the way of an activity. Not beekeeping, or anything.”

This is not the stuff of which cover stories are made. Maybe we all need to make more of an effort. That way we could all feature on the cover of a magazine.

Let’s start with the wisdom you received from your parents. All we need is a bit of creative interpretation. Their mundane advice may have been more philosophical than you at first thought.

“My father,” I shall tell the profile writer, “always told me to check the oil level in the car. By this, I believe, he meant to indicate the transitory nature of life, and how one must pay attention to the little things.”

Noticing the grateful look on the journalist’s face, I’d continue.

“My Lancashire grandmother, too, was always keen to guide me in life’s mysteries. She used to advise us all to ‘shut your bloomin’ cake holes’, by which she meant, I believe, that in life’s journey one should take time to silently consider the wonder of existence.

“Or, if it had been a few hours since her last meal, she might coyly observe ‘Me stomach thinks me throat’s bin cut,’ by which she intended to celebrate the need to listen to one’s body and hear its ancient call.”

The journalist’s pen, by this time, would be swiftly covering each page with delighted notes.

“And then,” I’d add, “there was my maternal grandfather, who I never had the chance to meet, but whose words have been captured in various court documents. His life wisdom was often recorded by the local constabulary, as in his classic refrain, ‘No way are they stolen goods, and if they are, it’s nowt to do with me.’

“It was his way, I think, of doubting the easy duality of truth and fiction while inviting me, his grandson, to embrace a view of the world that includes some understanding of the deep ambiguity at the heart of existence.”

Maybe you too can see the deep wisdom in the words of your forebears. If you promise to also dress in interesting ways and be caught hand-rearing a wombat, a magazine cover story is sure to be only days away.

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