You don’t know how much someone means to you until – out of the blue – they’re not there anymore.
I thought this while fighting back the tears when I learnt today of the death of Sally Brampton whom I had neither seen nor spoken to for quite some time but whose death at a young age put my mind into a spin of sadness and incomprehension.
When I think of the people who have played a part in my life, and how it’s panned out, Sally Brampton is up there with the best of them. A woman I barely knew beyond elegant parties and receptions, and infrequent conversations at The Groucho Club, and yet her impact upon my career was arguably the most significant of anyone I have worked with. With her encouragement, her enthusiasm, and my monthly by-line in Elle, I grew as a freelancer and tasted the delicious fruits of the glossy, glamourous, oh so seductive and well dressed domain of what came to be called, style journalism.
I think it was my dear friend Robert Elms who put me up to it, and I can still remember pitching Sally my cobbled together concept of a monthly motoring page for women. It was the 80s, when ideas and new angles and excitement ruled. If you had the chutzpah and the shoulder pads to match, anything was possible.
It was in Sally’s office in the Haymarket. She leaning against a desk, as irresistible as ever in something stretchy, tight and black, accentuating all of her glorious curves; unlike any editor I’d ever met. Her hair cropped short in that signature gamine way with the slightly startled expression of someone enjoying the spectacle of a hitherto unknown freelance writer spluttering and gabbling like a bad salesman.
After five or six minutes I ran out of steam whereupon Sally smiled and said simply, “ok, do it.” No ifs or buts, caveats or preconditions. She didn’t prevaricate. If she liked you she trusted you, and the last thing anyone at the receiving end of that trust would ever do – was let her down.
Incredible. My first national column. A breakthrough. But more than that Sally Brampton had become a road sign in a career trajectory steering me towards pastures I’d never imagined. Sally Brampton and three little words was all it took; Arena, GQ, The Observer and Daily Telegraph were next. Following an assignment to Nassau, commissioned by Sally’s travel editor Susan Ward-Davies, my nascent travel writing career with The Sunday Times, and thence the Express, soon fell into place.
All down to Sally Brampton’s decisiveness. Her talent as an editor and leader. Her appetite for newness, something a bit off the wall, and running with it.
It’s hard, nee impossible, for those of us not haunted by the specter of depression to understand what goes through the minds of those who carry the torment. On the surface Sally had the life millions aspire to. She was a great and gifted editor; A breath of fresh air in the muggy world of fashion magazines. A novelist and columnist too, and a mother. With her perennial beauty, dress sense and youthfulness, you felt good being around her.
Until this morning I was beginning to think I was growing inured to the loss of friends and colleagues, and those icons whose lives have run parallel to those of my generation, who are vanishing at an unerring rate long before they are due to depart.
I was wrong. Sally Brampton made an impact more than many and her departure will leave another a scar that’ll never heal.