The top management of Wijeya Newspapres wanted to come up with a publication that was non political, more life style based in line with magazines like Hello.
The initial discussions began with Upali Athurugiriya, an AFP photographer who had returned to Sri Lanka. The concept was handed to the Deputy Chairman, Mr Sujan Wijewardene, to put it all together. Sujan’s search for an Editor for the Magazine was not successful. Eventually it was Mettasena, photographer who suggested Shyamalee Tudawe and coordinated the meeting with her. The moment Shyamalee walked into the interview Sujan knew that she was the perfect choice.
After Upali Athurugiriya’s untimely death a delayed start saw Hi!! Magazine launch two years later.
The Magazine, launched in March 2003, brought a lot of excitement to Colombo and changed the concept of magazines in Sri Lanka. With the many functions that were going on at that time, it added to the glamour to have the Hi!! Magazine photographing the smartly dressed women and men in Colombo. It could be said that people took extra care on their appearance in case the Hi!! Magazine was at the event. The Hi! Magazine covered the most glamorous events in Colombo and international events where Sri Lanka was involved. The diaspora was always eager to lay their hands on the Magazine. The Hi! is sold in many parts of the world. Kudos to Shyamalee Tudawe to make it to the 100th edition of this very interesting and illustrious magazine. Below is my chat with Shyamalee regarding her experiences editing the Hi! Magazine from its inception.
Q Why was the publication started? What was the idea behind the magazine?
The Management of Wijeya Newspapers had been discussing the launch of a lifestyle magazine for sometime. Deputy Chairman of Wijeya Newspapers, Sujan Wijewardene, contacted me to discuss the idea of launching a new type of magazine - the likes of which were launched in Europe in the late 1990s. A Magazine that catered to a hitherto untapped niche market.
After the initial discussions, we developed an outline of the Hi!! Magazine that would appeal to both the glitterati and the literati. As a lifestyle magazine, I wanted it to be fun and stylish as well as inspirational. The writing style also had to be in sync. I think we hit just the right balance as we have made it to our 100th issue.
Q How would you ensure that content is relevant to a target audience?
From the very first magazine published in April 2003, I realised that our Sri Lankan readership loved the coverage of events much more than the features. In the beginning, I concentrated mostly on the events - launches/ parties and found that the weddings were such a huge hit. Such was the demand for coverage that Ashok Ferrey happened to hear me on the phone once and decided to do a short comic story on how the Hi!! was requested to cover a funeral.
The diaspora also started contacting us to cover their events overseas and that led to the magazine being launched in Los Angeles and New York in 2006.
As we progressed over the years, we started adjusting the content to include more serious features on timely and relevant topics, such as conservation and the environment.
From the very inception we focused on the cover story being based on an inspirational role model. We have featured many Sri Lankans, both local and from the diaspora who have done their country of birth proud and for making waves in their respective fields.
We also had to adjust to the technological advances of the past 20 years. Back in 2003, we were the Facebook and Instagram of the day as we were the first to break many of the happening events of that period in Sri Lanka.
Q How much planning went into creating the milestone issue like the 100th?
A great deal of thought went into planning this landmark issue. It was to be our Nostalgia Issue, a look back at the past 18 years of Hi!! and how we started out with just four people in the team.
I looked through 99 back issues to find our most interesting events and features to highlight in this 100th issue, which resulted in the cover story, The Birth of a Magazine.
Once the photos/features were selected, our Hi!! Team worked diligently digging up and sorting them out. Tina and Tharaka set to work on the template. The older events were laid out exactly as were in the very first issues with a deep blue background. We also did a cross section of the Legends we had carried over the years and included another feature highlighting the Game Changers we had featured in the past issues.
This gorgeous 100th issue is a result of the dedication and commitment of the Hi!! Team - Irushi, Tina, Tharaka, Manoj, Harsha, Ananda, Roomy, Raju, Navoda, Duminda and Chandika.
Q How much has COVID-19 impacted the magazine over the past year?
The past year has been very hard for everyone and every business, including Hi! We are very thankful to our loyal advertisers who have been with us over the years and continue to support us through these hard times.
We had to adjust our content to reflect the times by carrying more features as there were hardly any events during the many lockdowns. Due to this new structure, we were able to do more contemporary layouts devoting more pages to our features. Many of our readers have complimented us on the new look of the magazine.
I am grateful to all those who made this possible by supporting us with our feature and fashion shoots - the photographers, make up and hair stylists and the many location providers.
Q Do you have any articles or interviews that you’re particularly proud of, that have been published in the past years?
Too numerous to mention. I am extremely proud to have featured many Sri Lankans who are trailblazers. Our Features Editor, Tina, specialises in tracking down all these awesome people from around the globe.
The many celebrities I was lucky to meet through our advertisers Colombo Jewellers, Sifani and Chatham Luxury.
Q With so many publications being available entirely online these days, why do you think readers keep coming back to the hard copy of the Hi!! magazine?
True lovers of books say that there is nothing like holding the book in your hand. That is part of the reason that the hard copy of Hi!! is still very popular and loved by many. They love the luxury feel of the magazine as against something online. I remember that when it was first published, many would not even believe that we printed it locally.
When I travel overseas and visit other Sri Lankans, it is lovely to see copies of the Hi!! displayed proudly and prominently in their homes.
Q 100 issues are a huge milestone, what’s next for Hi!!?
I am very grateful that we made it to our 100th issue. We now must adjust to the new normal. Continuous change is the way to go to keep being relevant and appealing. That has always been our mantra and that’s what has kept us ahead of the curve!
“True lovers of books say that there is nothing like holding the book in your hand. That is part of the reason that the hard copy of Hi!! is still very popular and loved by many. They love the luxury feel of the magazine as against something online. I remember when it was first published, many would not even believe that we printed it locally.”