Meet the son of an Anglican archdeacon who has holidayed with Kate Middleton, is obsessed with Meghan Markle... and has just been appointed editor of Tatler
Richard Dennen talks to Charlotte Edwardes about the royals, coming out to his parents and why he's on a mission to reinvigorate the toff bible
Richard 'Dickie' Dennen, the new editor of Tatler magazine, is describing his colleague Edward Enninful, the new editor of Vogue. "Edward is the 21st-century equivalent of a duke," he says. "He is very glamorous, very popular, has extremely good vision on culture and an eco-system around him that I feel a 19th-century duke would've had."
This is a completely normal way to talk at Tatler - like calling your parents Mummy and Daddy (which Dennen does) and making shouty declamations like "Princess Eugenie is going to be an amazing bride" or "Tina Brown had Princess Diana, I have Meghan Markle" (which Dennen also does).
Less predictable, perhaps - posh people dislike predictability - are his politics. "My boyfriend votes Labour," he says. "He's 24, all his generation do. For me personally I can see good and bad points on both sides. Tatler is not definitely Tory. Tatler is a mix."
I meet Dennen (37) on his first day. "The Tatler of tomorrow starts today," he declares, as if cutting a ribbon. He is standing in a stripped-bare office overlooking Hanover Square wearing St Laurent jeans and suede "slippers" (from Stubbs & Wootton in Palm Beach) and directing furniture changes. He provides a brief history of the desk positions under previous editors: Kate Reardon faced the window; Catherine Ostler faced the wall; Geordie Greig faced the people. Dennen has decided to face the people too. "So that I feel involved," he whispers.
On the otherwise empty desk there are two leatherbound Smythson notepads embossed in gold with his initials. (A present? "No. I bought them myself.") But he's cheered the place up with vases of black roses and blue anemones. "It's nice to have everything chic."
He guides me to two orphaned chairs to sit. While he chats, his jacket stays on and intermittently he licks his lips and presses the ridge of his specs. The effect, with the big brown eyes and slightly chubby paws, is of a boy in slight disbelief at his luck.
Only last week he was at the Mail on Sunday, perched on the showbiz diary desk and writing articles on fashion history, racking up - according to colleagues - enormous taxi bills. They found him "completely delightful", "charming", with a "gentle manner". "He went out of his way to get on with everyone," says one. "Quite what he is doing in journalism was beyond me."
He's fabulously geeky about fashion history and, despite the odd, well-deployed grenade, he seems remarkably without venom. Conde Nast was once dubbed Conde Nasty, but the bitchiest thing about Dennen is his sigh. He uses it in response to questions he doesn't like, such as, does he worry about his lack of experience?
Sigh. "I've had an amazing training for this job, as a young assistant and then features editor at Tatler. I've had an incredible training on Fleet Street for seven years at the Sunday Times and then at the Mail on Sunday. So I wouldn't say I am inexperienced at all," he says. "I have a deep understanding of how the monthly magazine industry works."
Much has been made of his connections. There is a transparent brand-building exercise that involves the repeated mention of his great-grandfather, First World War Field Marshal Earl Haig, and the fact that he went to St Andrews University and studied history of art there at the same time as Kate Middleton, and Prince William, who did geography.
Were they friends? "Not super-close," he says. He met William "a couple of times" before, but uni was "a small circle" and he went on "a few holidays with Kate". When? Where? "The summer I graduated, we went on two holidays together, back-to-back in France. I think she's lovely."
Harry he knows barely at all - "I've met him once, briefly" - but he verbally shoves him to one side at the chance to talk about Meghan. "Obviously I am obsessed with Meghan."
He's also obsessed with Philippa Cadogan, his "best friend", whom he only ever refers to by her full name and who sounds hilarious. "She's this icon of the Royal Borough. She's like the Queen and knows everything." She dispenses dating declamations such as "a first date should never last more than two hours", which Dennen took to heart with his boyfriend, Hugo Francis. They met on Instagram. "He liked some of my photos, and I liked some of his. And then I decided I wanted a boyfriend, so I sent him a message and we went on a date.
"We met in the middle of Albert Bridge and had a coffee in Battersea Park. When two-and-a-half hours had passed, I thought, 's***, I should really go because I need to stick to Philippa Cadogan's rules'."
Why two hours? "Philippa Cadogan doesn't give reasons behind her Delphic Oracle-style pronunciations."
Dennen was a "walker" in his twenties. "I did lots of walking with Kitty Spencer and Lily Collins, the actress whose dad is Phil Collins." And Cadogan? "I would absolutely walk her, but we also watch movies together, it's not just going to parties."
Actually the name-droppy side of Dennen isn't the most interesting bit. More gripping is his own family. His father was Jewish and grew up "on Rodeo Drive" in a house that had "one room just for plates and porcelain". Rock Hudson was a neighbour and on the other side was a family who had actual carpet on their driveway.
I say "was Jewish" because his father Lyle converted to Christianity and rose through the ranks of the Anglican Church to become an archdeacon. Dennen describes himself as "genetically half-Jewish" (adding: "I'm reading Belonging by Simon Schama"), but his mother grew up in Melrose in the Scottish borders. "So I'm half Beverly Hills and half sort of Scottish castle. Which I think is a good combo."
Did he ever feel like an outsider? He pauses. "It's probably more complicated to be gay, especially at boarding school," he says. Charterhouse was "brutal" and produced "mostly estate agents".
"It was one of the last Victorian public schools. It was pretty tough and I had an awful, awful first three years. Then in sixth form I wrote a play and cast all the most popular kids, and afterwards I had an amazing two years."
His gap year he spent studying French civilisation at the Sorbonne, "the course that in my mother's generation debs got packed off to do". A cousin or a godmother signed him up to the French equivalent of deb parties. "Every Saturday everyone from a certain sort of family in Paris went." A memorable one was thrown by a French princess, he says, in the Salle Wagram off the Champs-Elysees. "It was something out of Africa with snakes and monkeys and animals. I'd come from London, where our life had been going to the pub, and I thought: 'My God, this is amazing."
By comparison, St Andrews was tame. He jokes that he didn't dare leave the Scottish city "in case you missed the one good night of the year".
"In my first week everyone kept going on about the All Night Garage, and I thought that was a cool underground club. Finally I went and it was the Shell garage where everyone went for food."
It wasn't until he arrived at Tatler - where the late Isabella Blow took him under her wing - that he came out. "My parents were very kind and relaxed. Even though my dad was a very senior clergyman, and they are regular churchgoers, it was never shoved down our throats. Half the priests who turn up to their Christmas drinks are gay."
He wrote a column "about what it was like to be gay and upper class, which I don't think anyone had done before. I wanted to cause a bit of a stir." It quoted Somerset Maugham, and Dennen is still beguiled by "the gilded age".
Like it or hate it, we live in a world where there is more money in fewer hands, a new "gilded age of very rich people", he says. "I'm not saying it's a good thing but Tatler has to reflect that. These are the people buying art, going to restaurants, hosting parties; these are people we need to be writing about.
"My Tatler will remember the DNA of the original magazine in 1709: an 18th-century romp through the coffee houses of St James's writing about the most influential people in arts or politics or theatre," he adds.
"Of course, we are living in a different world, so I also want the latest hot, contemporary arts star, or rock star. I love upper-class girls but they need to be interesting.
"You have to move Tatler into the 21st century," he insists. "People who aren't old money, who don't have a title, but are interesting because they are successful and bought incredible things." He considers Kendall Jenner "a global It girl".
Aesthetic is crucial, even in his personal life. For instance, he has to live somewhere visually interesting as "it's really important for me as a writer and someone who wants to think up incredible stories, to live somewhere where you are looking out into beautiful streets".
Recently, he moved from Bloomsbury to Belgravia. "I love Bloomsbury because of the Georgian architecture but it got too dirty. I had a big fight with Camden council over the rubbish-collection cycle."
Actually, this fight is instructive. "When the rubbish started piling up in the streets I went nuts. I went to the town hall to track down the chief executive. I wrote him and Keir Starmer (the local MP) about 20 letters each, and in the end I stressed them out so much they sent a recycling van every day." He pauses. "But I'd already packed up and moved by then."