‘We took the acid at 6:00 p.m. – the awards started at 6:30 p.m.’: The inside story of Loaded’s crazy debut | life and style

“No, you understand. It’s your turn.”

“Fuck you, I’m telling you to get it.”

An argument in Loaded’s office is so rare that I put down the article I’m editing and walk around my desk, which is covered in vodka bottles from a photo shoot, and walk through my bedroom.

On the wall is a large Scarface poster. Alongside is a clipping of a newspaper article highlighting “the 10 traits of a social psychopath”. Someone put a red checkmark next to each entry and stuck it on my door.

At the bottom of the couch is a pile of brand new outerwear that our fashion department swagman, Reece, has been joking about. Across from my desk, the four men in the art department are all facing computer screens, laying out pages and calling up photographs. Their area has two broken fans hanging from the desk, there are piles of our latest issue with Frank Skinner on the cover, and bottles of freshly used poppers are strewn on the floor.

A meeting table is covered with over 40 boxes of breakfast cereal from our recent Breakfast Cereal World Cup.

Elsewhere in a hidden corner, someone empties a bag of cocaine wrappers, opens each one and scrapes some of the white powder into a larger wrapper. He puts the new, smaller, neatly folded envelopes back in the bag and the larger siphoned overstuff envelope back in his wallet.

Across the office, in the sub room, there’s a hubbub of low-volume conversation where people are actually working. It’s the magazine’s engine room, the reason it comes out on time every month.

Downstairs, a portable TV with a video player is playing a soon to be released song called Wannabe by a new band called Spice Girls. The record company wants us to go to Japan with the band, which they think is “very busy”.

The source of the high voices is the writers’ area, where three staff row whose turn it is to buy champagne at the off-license just 100 yards away.

I watch in disbelief and think that one day I will think back to that chaos, that second childhood, and wonder if it all really happened.

Outside two cars are waiting to take the five of us to Heathrow to fly to New York for the only reason that I now have a company credit card and as soon as it arrived we decided to do a story of trip there. Within 12 hours of this fight, we’ll be in a Manhattan hotel room drinking vodka shots. The signature on the credit card is already mostly erased due to the amount of assorted cocaine powder it came into contact with. These include baby laxatives, speed products, and almost certainly bath cleaners.

I’m 28 and created my ideal job as the editor of a magazine that exploded into public life. No one tells us what we can or can’t do, pretty much anything we want is fine, but who knows how long it might last?

It’s been five months since Loaded launched and for me there are 31 more to go. A thousand nights of chaos await you.

YesYou know you’re getting jaded about success when you’re eating acid sheets before an awards night in Park Lane. In the two years since Loaded’s launch, we had become one of the most talked about cultural phenomena of the decade. We had been in an exercise in childish behavior for over 700 days, and things were going well. Almost too well. So, at the third publishing grand prix, I thought that, despite the magazine’s popularity, I probably wouldn’t dishonor the stage again — I just didn’t see how we could continue to win every year. Anticipating impending rejection, I decided to change our agenda for the night and encouraged the staff present to take a load of acid blotter.

The A4 sheet of acid was a gift from a guy who needed a reference to explain his unexplained income. I had written a letter saying that he was a marketing consultant and that he was paid in cash. We took the acid at 6 p.m. and the reception was supposed to start at 6:30 p.m. At 7 p.m., we were still wandering around the office when the phone rang. On the other end of the line was a reporter from the Express who wanted a quote about me being Editor of the Year again.

I explained that they must be wrong because the rewards hadn’t happened yet. She said the ceremony had already started and it was assumed that all attendees would already be at the Grosvenor. Therefore, the organizers had sent the results to the media. I felt my mouth go dry.

I looked across my desk at the acid sheet. I put the phone down. “Shit!” I explained to others what had happened and what was going to happen. They seemed to blanch collectively and stare at the acid, then at each other, and we all yelled, “Damn!”

Brown in the office of Loaded in 1997. Photography: Harry Borden

We crashed into a small open top vintage sports car and as we drove around Hyde Park Corner my body started to feel abnormally uncomfortable. My limbs were clumsy and I could feel my face tingling and my teeth chattering. From the screams, the big smiles, and the compulsive desire to wave at strangers, I guessed the others were experiencing a similar transformation. We walked out to Park Lane and the first thing I did was stand near the entrance with my arms up, gathering the coats of other rushing stragglers. in the park tulips.

The hotel’s scarlet-walled Red Bar was the worst possible place to be on acid. It looked like blood was dripping down the walls, and all we could see were repeated images of ourselves curling into the distance in the mirrors. The more you frowned or laughed at what was going on, the scarier it seemed.

We raced into the ballroom, which looked like a floating ocean of candles, cutlery, chandeliers, ice buckets, wine bottles and glasses.

Our bosses, Alan Lewis and Andy McDuff, seemed particularly relieved to see that we had arrived. “I have good news and bad news,” I said. “The good news is that a woman just called us and said we won.”

Andy and Alan looked pleased but confused. “What’s the bad news? »

“We all took a lot of acid.”

For even the most patient person, any industry awards night can take years, with the disappointment and intoxication increasing as the night wears on. My own relationship to time had disappeared. After the fried brie starter, I noticed that Alan’s head had taken on the shape of the cheese and his face a large cubic beard. I retreated to my increasingly natural habitat at awards nights – under the table.

That’s where I was when they announced I had to go on stage. I yelled that Alan had to go. He refused and said they were waiting for me. The path seems so long. By the time I got up there, I was spending a lot of time thinking about the weird feeling of my teeth in my mouth. I received the award, then I went back down to the side of the stage. I have no more memories of that night. Several years later, a fellow editor told me he met me at a table cutting up long lines of cocaine and giving them away like free magazines to anyone who wanted them. It was like that so often. If it wasn’t an awards night, it was an event, a festival, a pub or a party. It was like one of those documentaries where they lock little kids in a house for a week and let them be, only we make millions of pounds in the process. And people seemed to like it.

This is an edited extract from Animal House by James Brown (Quercus, £20). To support the Guardian and the Observer, order your copy from guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.

Luz W. German