Chrissy Iley is a freelance journalist renowned for her intimate interviews with A-list celebrities. She talks about her career, how to get your foot in the door and why it's worth making friends with publicists...
I had no desire to become a journalist. I began by selling vintage clothes and fell into publishing simply by chance, after a recommendation from someone working at a now defunct American pop magazine. Being British, they brought me on board to secure interviews with UK celebrities. Not long after, I did my first-ever interview with Paul Weller from The Jam. I guess you can say that my background in retail has helped me a lot – there’s a lot of buying and selling involved in my job.
I divide my time between London and LA, interviewing celebrities on both sides of the pond. My clients – Glamour, Fabulous and The Sunday Times magazines – like to feature iconic figures on their covers, and it’s my job to track them down. Starting out, I wrote on a cluster of topics, such as food and relationships. But ever since celebrities took over the world, I’ve mostly been doing interviews.
It may sound fun speaking with celebrities all day, but my job isn’t easy. There are a lot of last-minute schedule changes and politics involved, mainly between the publicists and myself. It’s a complete contrast to how things used to be when I first started out. Celebrities used to like being interviewed but now we have to try to pin them down. It’s a long procedure that takes up a large chunk of my time – there’s less emphasis on the writing these days, which is a shame.
Living in LA, I feel I’m in a better position than most journalists. I’m able to liaise directly with important publicists and meet my interviewees in person, as opposed to over the phone.
My favourite interviewee has to be Courtney Love. She’s a great person to have a chat with and is comfortable with revealing every aspect of her life. The last time we spoke, I ended up leaving her house in the early hours of the morning. Of course, not all interviewees are responsive and willing to comment on their private lives. Meg Ryan, for one, took it personally when I asked her about her relationship with her mother.
To survive in journalism these days, you need to be armed with brilliant ideas and great contacts. Editors aren’t interested in poetic writers – you need to be able to bring a lot more to the table. It’s getting increasingly tough for freelancers, too. With budgets being slashed left, right and centre, most of the writing on magazines and newspapers is being done in-house, to everyone’s dismay.
Freelancers looking to get into celebrity journalism need to build strong ties with publicists because, at the end of the day, they’ll help them more than an editor will. My advice to anyone starting out would be to find a full-time staff position. It’s difficult, but once you’ve got your foot in the door, life will be a hell of a lot easier.
Chrissey Illey was talking to Bertan Budak.