Behind the scenes of Country Life magazine: editor Mark Hedges' Hampshire home is a showcase of rural splendour

The editor of the nation’s poshest glossy property magazine is nicknamed 'The Hedge' and says the countryside is in our DNA, as the number of Londoners cashing in their highly priced properties continue to soar.  

Mark Hedges, the editor of Country Life, is a living advertisement for his publication. Breezy and jovial, like a slightly older David Cameron, he is celebrating his 10th year at the helm of the nation’s poshest glossy property magazine and has come to his local train station in the South Downs to collect me in a burgundy Bentley Flying Spur. He is quick to explain that it’s “only on loan” from the manufacturer for two weeks, but it seems to suit the 52-year-old country squire.

While most of us remember Country Life as the dog-eared weekly found in dentists’ waiting rooms and beloved of a shrinking breed of landed gentry, Hedges explains that, a decade in, this magazine is alive and kicking and profitable, with a third of its readership made up of the capital’s booming international crowd — hedge funders and entrepreneurs — who aspire to a life of rural splendour.

Londoners are falling in love with nature, too. Just witness the craze in tree-climbing and rambling in the Royal Parks. “The British are unique in thinking that if you are successful, you go and live in the countryside,” says Hedges. “It seems to be in our DNA.”

Not only that, the number of London home owners cashing in their highly priced property is soaring, as middle-class families head out of town for a better life and education for their children. Hedges says the average price for a house sold through Country Life is now £2.5 million, with Georgian rectories in the Cotswolds walking out of the door.

Like his target demographic, Hedges — and his wife Stacey, whose company Hampshire Cheeses makes prize-winning fare — left London 20 years ago. They sent their three children, now aged 16, 22 and 24, to the local state primary and moved them on to private day schools while he did the long daily commute. But, he says, it has all been worth it.

The kitchen of his barn conversion home has exposed wooden rafters, cream Shaker units, an antique oak kitchen table and a large navy Aga. Two small dogs clamour for attention until he orders them into their cage.

“I fish, I garden very badly. I love going for walks. I’m very much at peace in the countryside,” he says. Country Life’s recent cost-cutting office move from Bankside to Farnborough in Hampshire makes his commute much shorter.

“At 52, I’m more excited by the countryside than I’ve ever been”: Mark Hedges at his home near Petersfield, Hampshire (John Lawrence)


Hedges has always been a country boy at heart. He grew up in the Cotswolds — in the house that Jeremy Clarkson now lives in — and was a “very horsey” child. He went to school at Radley and studied geology at Durham, after which he worked for bloodstock auctioneers Tattersalls, before joining Horse & Hound. His career in journalism grew from there.

To cater for the new Country Life Londoner Hedges commissions features on luxury shopping, interiors and art. “We don’t assume people always know the difference between a stoat or a weasel.” But he does assume they love the royals, waving the flag and wearing a sharp suit.

Guest editors have included Prince Charles; he has introduced a Gentleman of the Year Award, and last month, we got to see Land of Hope and Glory, a fly-on-the-wall TV documentary of life in and out of the mag. Think Tatler-meets-Countryfile. The three-part series pushed sales up by 40 per cent and its circulation is now “a smidge under 40,000”.

One feature that remains unchanged is the posh totty Girls in Pearls “frontispiece”. The Hedge, as he’s known in the office, insists it’s “the single most famous page of any magazine.” Do people fall over themselves to get on to it? “Yes, but we can only do 51 a year.”

Country Life staple: Girls in Pearls spans the years

Eligible contenders, he says, should be “known to an aspect of the readership and it helps if they’re engaged or have an interesting career”. Isn’t it rather sexist? “I think it’s rather sweet. They wear their own clothes and choose where they want to be and everyone is fascinated by it.”

As much as he’s a bucolic-fantasy salesman, he is prepared to tackle the serious subjects, too. “Fracking is something we’re going to have to look at in the long term,” as are solar panels.

On wind farms: “I’m sceptical. They’re not as carbon neutral as everyone thinks because you have to pour vast amounts of concrete into the ground in the middle of nowhere and they blight the countryside.”

And his personal countryside concerns are manifold — the importance of bees, our hedges, badger culling, bovine TB and his hopes of a repeal of the ban on fox hunting.

“We live in an extraordinary countryside, all man-made but within that there is a balance of nature. I loved it from a very young age and it becomes more fascinating. You start observing things like the direction the rooks are flying in and wonder why. At 52, I’m more excited by it than I’ve ever been.”

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