As far as I'm concerned, Empire is in fact a mere 22 years old, as I didn't start reading it until early 1992. I still remember the day Empire and I first met: bored shitless during my lunch break from a Saturday job at Lloyds Supersave chemists in my home town of Whitchurch, Shropshire, I ventured into WHSmiths in the hope of finding something to take my mind off an impending afternoon of stocking shelves with IZAL medicated toilet paper. Browsing the magazine rack, I was alarmed to be confronted by Kevin Costner gurning handsomely at me from the cover of Empire issue 32. I didn't care much for Costner at the time, so the thought of paying money for something with his face on it gave me pause, but I was a big film fan and it certainly appeared that this magazine might just have something about films in it.
I've remained more or less faithful to Empire ever since, although I should confess that I've cheated on it with Total Film, Hotdog and Neon (the latter of which was by far its best companion and I mourn its loss to this day) for a while, and I downright deserted it for about six months some time in the late 1990s. I can't remember the cause of that temporary separation, but I'd stayed true throughout those long years of every article ending with a maddening ellipsis, so whatever it was must have been serious. Maybe it was those paltry three stars for The World Is Not Enough, so clearly a four-star film, right?
In 2009, faced with another house move involving lugging several tons of magazines from one postcode to another, I donated my 17-year collection of Empires to a recycling bin. It was a tediously practical decision, and while I don't regret it (I don't think I ever looked at an old issue once the new one came out), I do regret dumping issue 32. I could buy one on eBay for 99p but it wouldn't be the one I fondled so vigorously that Saturday lunchtime over a turkey sandwich and a cup of instant coffee that tasted like IZAL medicated toilet paper.
In my final year at university I had written to Empire's editor, Ian Nathan, asking for work experience on the magazine. I'd included my review of Ron Howard's Ransom, a piece of writing I now recognise as one of the most unpleasant things ever to happen to paper, and that includes IZAL medicated toilet paper. Mr Nathan, displaying the kind of judgement which has kept him at the magazine for so long, did not reply. But fifteen short years later I circumvented him by pestering reviews editor Nick de Semlyen to let me write short DVD reviews, and in issue 271 Empire and I finally consummated our relationship as I penetrated its pages with my three-star review of the home entertainment release of Mr Popper's Penguins. Movie journalism had entered a brave new era.
I dip my toe into this stinking cesspit of self-indulgence because, being old and grumpy, I don't get excited about much, but being even the tiniest of cogs in the Empire magazine machine gets me all sorts of tumescent. It's been such a constant part of my life for so long that I can't imagine being without it, so helping to make it (even if I'm only helping to make it worse) feels like an enormous privilege. Who, having read it for so long, wouldn't want to write for Empire? Only last week at their annual awards shindig, Online Editor James Dyer chatted amiably with Arnold Schwarzenegger; regular freelancer Olly Richards shook hands with Tom Cruise (twice, he'll happily point out); and diminutive, beardular, subnormal Features Editor Dan Jolin felt the warm embrace of courageous, manly, distinguished icon Hugh Jackman (adjectives added at Dan's insistence). It's getting to do shit like that FOR A LIVING that makes the people who make Empire make it as fun to read as it is. They're all film geeks living the dream, and that enthusiasm drips off the pages like... well, let's not get into period metaphors again.
So without wishing to sink any further into a bog of sycophantic muck sloshed liberally over an occasional employer, I'll simply wish Empire a happy 25th birthday and thank it for everything it's given me since January 1992. Keep up the good work guys, and if you're interested, I have a terrific Ransom retrospective piece up my sleeve...