Freelance Journalist Interview with Mike Peake
"These days there's less glamour," says Mike Peake; former dep ed at FHM, now consumer journalist writing for publications including The Guardian, Esquire, Harrods and ShortList. Past glamour for Mike has included meeting the Foo Fighters, interviewing shark attack survivors, and watching Jenny Agutter eating popcorn from the back of a dark room. Current glamour is replacing the woodchip in his back garden – do you realise how much that stuff costs?!
About your journalism
What do you write about?
I’m a generalist for consumer magazines, a jack-of-all-trades and my goal on a near-daily basis is to try become ‘master’ – loosely speaking – of whatever I’ve been asked to write about that week. This involves a rapid dose of research and general swatting up, and I love it. It’s a great mix, and after many years in an office environment (I quit as dep ed at FHM in 2006) it’s refreshing to have such a varied day job.
It’s all consumer journalism stuff, rarely anything too heavyweight, and the publications vary wildly. Subjects include luxury watches, fitness, adventure travel, people with amazing survival stories. All sorts. No two weeks are the same.
Where are we likely to see your work?
I write most regularly for Gulf News in Dubai; Ryanair’s excellent in-flight magazine Let’s Go, which has a really fun, light-hearted tone; Harrods’ fantastic customer magazine; Men’s Fitness magazine and several luxury lifestyle titles in London, such as The Mayfair Magazine and Kensington & Chelsea Magazine. Less frequent, but still often enough to mention, are ShortList, Reader’s Digest, the Daily Mail, The Guardian and a couple of other airline magazines.
Newspapers were a good source of income when I first went freelance, but became astonishingly hard to get into when the recession hit. I adapted. Today I’m just as likely to be ghost-writing a company blog or some copy for a games company as a feature article for a magazine.
What’s the most memorable work you’ve done?
I was lucky enough to meet and interview countless cool people when at FHM, from the Foo Fighters and Metallica to Al Gore. These days there’s less glamour, but I do get to talk to people with jaw-dropping stories. I’ve interviewed a South African guy who had his leg bitten off by a shark; a man who was adrift in a life-raft for 70-odd days; a bloke who was buried alive. I feel privileged to have them tell me their stories.
What interview or feature would you love the chance to do?
My favourite film is 'Jaws', so I’d love to round up the original cast and interview whichever of them are still around. About 12 years ago I got invited to a reunion of the 'An American Werewolf In London' cast and a screening of the movie at the Curzon in Mayfair. That was brilliantly surreal watching the film as Jenny Agutter and the others shared popcorn in the row in front.
About you and PRs
Work with PRs much?
These days our paths don’t cross much unless I need something, because I’m no longer a ‘keeper of the keys’, so to speak. When I do need something such as a case-study or expert comment, I find PRs invaluable and almost always really helpful.
Where do you source ideas for articles?
Everything is recycled. I see something somewhere and wonder how I can put my stamp on it/make it better/embellish it. I also have lonely one-man features meetings from time-to-time, which can be a sobering reminder of just how brilliant working in a lively office can be.
How can PRs be useful to you?
It’s all about inspiring and interesting people and very rarely about product. So a pitch about a new blu-ray player is almost certainly not going to be of interest, but if I knew that the CEO was also a BASE jumper or lived in a car for two years while developing the brand, I might be able to do something with that.
How and when do you like them to get in touch?
Always email, please. If you’ve a great human interest story but worried that it might get a little sensationalised if passed on to a women’s weekly, I might be worth a punt. Especially if there’s a Middle East or Indian angle and I’ve got my Gulf News cap on. Also, and forgive the shameless self-marketing, if you’re looking to outsource web content, blogs or any other kind of writing, drop me a line and I can guarantee that you’ll definitely get through my spam filters!
Do you find press conferences, trips, parties and other events useful or an interruption?
I’m nowhere near London so most invitations/parties simply serve to remind me of my steady withdrawal from the human race. It’s generally the same case for press trips, though I am in regularly in France and do occasionally squeeze in some time to write about things over there. A good example was a Red Bull cliff-diving event in La Rochelle a couple of years back, which I was able to cover and, indeed, ‘join in’ with a puny four metre dive.
If you could make one change to the way PRs deal with you, what would it be?
I have no complaints, though to be fair I’m not really on too many people’s radar. All of the PRs I’ve dealt with have been terrific, and my email traffic is testament to that. For a journalist, it’s extremely comforting to know that when you do need something in a rush, there’s someone, somewhere who will usually drop everything and try to make it happen.
How would you pay the bills if you weren’t a journalist?
I have absolutely no idea. This is all I have ever done. I can play the drums quite well and my French is decent, but there’s no obvious career leaping out of that killer combo.
If we gave you £1000, how would you spend it?
On woodchip for the path that runs around my back garden. It’s quite long and when I laid it down it never occurred to me that woodchip was biodegradable and would turn into dust every three years and blow away. Something more rock’n’roll? I’d buy about three minutes of Rankin’s time and see if he could improve on the admittedly ‘hilarious’ shot I sent in.
Do you tweet? Why, why not?
I do, somewhat reluctantly. I don’t find Twitter daunting, I just find it a bit like standing on a box and shouting, "Look at me!" which might be appropriate if you’re 18 or do indeed have lots to shout about but it seems at odds with my lifestyle. I did once do a killer Tweet which totally failed to get the recognition it deserved and which I will gleefully ‘retweet’ right now: telly writer Michael Hogan was talking about celebrity posture consultants and I replied that "posture consultants really get my back up". See? Wasted.
What books are on your bedside table, magazines in your bag, or blogs on your screen?
I’ve had a sudden rush of books from people I know through work and two I’ve especially enjoyed are 'Party Time' by Shaun Attwood and 'Creating My Own Nemesis' by John Wardley, who designed Alton Towers’ best rides. Another goodie I just read is 'Band Aid For A Broken Leg' by former MSF doctor Damien Brown – it’s brilliantly written and a graphic reminder of how lucky we are in the West.