Ex-OK! editor Lisa Byrne reveals why she swapped a champagne lifestyle with celebs for a quiet life in the York countryside

ORGANISING the wedding of Liza Minnelli and David Gest in New York was one of the highlights of a glamorous career at OK! magazine for Lisa Byrne.

Lisa, from Acomb, York, was editor-in-chief of the weekly celebrity glossy in its heyday, when circulation wars were rife between OK! and Hello! to secure the biggest cover stars.

"We had all the old-style celebrities from Hollywood, and significant British celebrities – now everybody is a celebrity. It is totally different to what it used to be like. I wouldn't want to be editing a celebrity magazine now," says Lisa, 47, who left OK! in 2012 and returned north, settling into a village just outside York with her husband, David, and daughter Brontë, aged 10. She now runs her own PR business (lisabyrnepr.com).

The stories she can tell about the golden years at OK! are worthy of a book themselves. Under her editorship, OK! covered many celebrity weddings, including those of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones; Peter Andre and Katie Price (aka Jordan), and Cheryl Tweedy and Ashley Cole, but none were as memorable nor as star-studded as Liza and David's, which Lisa and the OK! team helped to organise.

Lisa says: "I am really, really proud of organising the wedding of David Gest and Liza Minnelli in New York. With some weddings, you have a pre-meeting with their agent then just turn up. With others, you are more like a wedding planner and have to organise everything from the flowers to where the wedding photos will be taken.

York Press:

STAR-STUDDED: Lisa helped organise the wedding of David Gest and Liza Minnelli in New York

"With David and Liza, it took so much work. We held lots of meetings with them. It all got a bit crazy: they were inviting everyone they met to the wedding. They met Martine McCutcheon on the Graham Norton Show and asked her to be a bridesmaid!"

On the big day, Lisa remembers going into one room and coming face to face with A-lister royalty. "Michael Jackson, Diana Ross and Elizabeth Taylor were all there. It was like being in Madame Tussauds!"

One of the saddest stories she covered was the wedding of Jade Goody – Jade was in the terminal stage of cervical cancer at the time. "It was the most heartbreaking experience," recalls Lisa. "It was such a sad event as she only had a few weeks to live. We went and did the photos very quickly."

During the 13 years she worked at OK! magazine, she clocked up thousands of air miles, following celebrities around the world. There were regular trips to the Cannes film festival, where it became second nature to rub shoulders with the world's most famous movie stars aboard super yachts. But it wasn't all fun and games. She was working, and had to get stories. "I remember one time in Cannes while I was pregnant and feeling terrible and having to go on to a yacht and try to speak to Brad Pitt – who just wouldn't say anything," recalls Lisa.

But he was the exception. Lisa stayed at the helm of OK! for eight years because she earned the trust and friendship of the celebrities the magazine liked to feature.

Her York home is testament to that: she leads me into the downstairs loo and on the wall are two collages of photos of Lisa with what looks like the great and the good of celebsville, including George Clooney, Matt Damon, Pamela Anderson, Simon Cowell, David and Victoria Beckham and Elton John.

York Press:

INVITE ONLY: Lisa with (l-r) David Furnish, Phil Gould, of OK! magazine and Elton John

Invites to Elton John's extravagant summer parties were an annual occurrence. "We covered Elton John's Ball for ten years and got to know him quite well. The parties were absolutely amazing. You'd arrive at the height of summer and be taken to the amazing gardens. There was always a theme: the ballet, the opera, Russia. Everyone was dressed up, there would be acrobats. Elton would stand on the lawn, greeting everyone coming through and every person seemed to be more famous than the one before!"

Again, it wasn't all plain sailing. "One year, I was talking to some celebrities and looked over as Elizabeth Hurley was eyeing me in horror. I hadn't realised, but one foot was on a revolving dancefloor which was beginning to move. I fell over and landed in a heap."

Lisa also rubbed shoulders with royalty, mixing with Princes William and Harry at the polo, where they often talked about a shared passion: their dogs.

York Press:

ROYAL CATCH: Lisa with Prince William

Life at OK! couldn't have been more different from Lisa's early days, when she started out on the Ripon Gazette, followed by a stint on the Northallerton, Thirsk and Bedale Times, where she was the editor. "I was a one-woman-band, out interviewing farmers!"

She moved to London, freelancing for the nationals before landing a job at OK!

Towards the end of her editorship, Lisa says the stresses were mounting: circulation was falling and it was becoming harder to land that celebrity exclusive when competing with the internet and social media. "Each week was becoming more and more stressful. It was really horrendous. I was bringing work home and couldn't sleep – especially the night before the circulation figures were due."

In the end, Lisa left OK! – but only weeks later ended up facing an even bigger challenge. "I found a lump and discovered I had an aggressive form of breast cancer. I had a biopsy, lumpectomy and chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The treatment sent me into perimenopause and I now have osteoporosis."

Following this, Lisa suffered a family bereavement.

By 2014, Lisa was feeling better and began looking to move back to York – and an opportunity to start afresh.

The family took on the challenge of turning a dilapidated 18th century farmhouse into a home, which they have done. Life is now lived at a slower pace: with walks in the nearby woods and visits to the local pub – often with their beloved dogs Merlin and Diggerley.

Today, Lisa is in remission, and is loving her new life back in York. "When we go out for a walk in the bluebell woods we see bunnies and deer – it is like living in a heaven on earth."