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As Doctor Who’s Ncuti Gatwa covers our 30th birthday issue, we look back at three decades of Attitude

We know, we know, we don't look a day over 21! This April 2024, we're reflecting on Attitude's glittering history - and our fabulous suite of covers

By Jamie Tabberer

Ncuti Gatwa leads our 30-year anniversary issue (Images: Attitude)
Ncuti Gatwa leads our 30-year anniversary issue (Images: Attitude/Melanie Lehmann )

“I just got a text from Cheryl…” says a panicked member of Team Attitude. The year is 2008 and I am a bright- eyed, bushy-tailed intern listening with poker-faced fascination as the magazine’s Girls Aloud cover hangs in the balance for reasons I won’t get into here. 

The ensuing tea is scalding (or would have been, were tea a metaphorical concept back then), but everything works out in perfectly sequinned GA style in the end. 

It’s surreal that 16 years later, the girls are back — minus their shiniest member, Sarah ‘walking primrose’ Harding — and I’m now a member of Team Attitude, tasked with reviewing our 30-year history: an often amazing (seven Kylie covers!), occasionally embarrassing (James Corden? Seriously?), but never boring ride. (In 1995, we ran an exclusive interview with Oscar Wilde, his ‘first in 100 years’. Go figure.) 

I was eight, and the Conservatives’ John Major was in power when Attitude, ‘a men’s magazine with a twist, tailored for a largely, but not exclusively, gay male readership’, first hit the shelves in May 1994.

“It’s not just full of cock and arse — there’s some intellect in there,” our OG cover star, Culture Club’s Boy George, later said.

I read my first issue in 2001 — I think I might have shoplifted it. For a lost queer teen like me, it was a lifeline. Then, the cloud of HIV/AIDS loomed large. “You’ll probably die of it,” I was told at school, where homophobic bullying was rife under Margaret Thatcher’s Section 28, which banned ‘promotion of homosexuality’ by local authorities until it was repealed in 2003.

Boy George was Attitude’s first-ever cover star (Image: Attitude)

Fortunately, Attitude and its writers and editors, some of whom I’d go on to meet, were my mentors. (As was our three-time cover star Geri Halliwell!) As our community inched closer to equality with the Gender Recognition Act (2004), civil partnerships (2005) and marriage equality (2014), Attitude grew into a fully inclusive, cross-platform title, teaching me all I needed to know about our rainbow family. 

But the essence of Attitude was there from the start — notably, in our mind-blowing early exclusives: Madonna, Jean Paul Gaultier, Naomi Campbell, Pedro Almodóvar, Diana Ross and Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant’s coming-out interview, to name a few. It was also there in our tone of voice: ferociously intelligent, sexually liberated, culturally aware, stylishly minded, sublimely bitchy. Think your ‘messy best friend’ after too many WKDs. (Remember Dear Jools? His put-downs are unprintable today…) 

Ginger Spice Geri in her second of three Attitude covers (Image: Attitude)

Who’d have guessed that, of the talented individuals who cultivated that voice, who taught a generation of queers to stand up for themselves, who literally guided this writer to self-acceptance, a handful would break away to walk a gender-critical road. It’s likewise strange to consider through a modern lens the sheer quantity of straight white men on our cover through the years — a particularly chronic problem in the 1990s, 2000s and even 2010s. On the flipside, today, you’ll see inspiring trans women of colour like Munroe Bergdorf and Yasmin Finney getting top billing.

It was cathartic, then, when 70s icon and Star Trek legend George Takei got the cover treatment in 2018, and when 90s legend Skin of Skunk Anansie got the same in 2022.

Skin of Skunk Anansie appeared on our cover in 2022 (Image: Attitude)

Don’t get us wrong, there were wins among the old cohort: Brokeback Mountain-era Heath Ledger (2006); a post- Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe, now a vocal trans ally (2009, 2012, 2013); the always-lovely McFly (2007, 2010, 2013), in various states of undress. And, of course, Prince William (2016). 

But for every wizard, pop prince and future king, there was a soap actor (Coronation Street’s Simon Gregson in 1996), reality TV star (TOWIE’s Dan Osborne in 2014) and even a since-cancelled pop superstar (Marilyn Manson in 1999 — a nadir for the brand, even then.) Don’t get us started on David Beckham… 

Daniel Radcliffe is an outspoken trans ally (Image: Attitude)

But everything looks different with hindsight. It’s not lost on us that even this iteration of the magazine will look different in 30 years’ time because our community, its language and cultural mores are constantly evolving. Even the days of using someone’s assumed cis-ness and straight-ness as a stick to beat them with are over.

Look at Heartstopper’s Kit Connor, who graced our cover in 2022, and later that year publicly responded to queer-baiting accusations by disclosing his bisexuality. “Congrats for forcing an 18-year-old to out himself,” he said. The pressure on Kit to come out came from within the community. Our preoccupation with representation and authenticity failed us. We failed to recognise those whose identities are still forming, or else private. And so, we changed. 

McFly in one of our most memorable covers of all time (Image: Attitude)

Our community continues to face reckonings daily. But, like Girls Aloud, we always kiss, make up and throw a fabulous party. Attitude has seen and documented it all — and will continue to do so. Here’s to the next 30 years! 

This is the intro section of the 18-page historical feature in issue 358 of Attitude magazine, which is available to order online here, and alongside 15 years of back issues on the free Attitude app.