UK markets close in 4 hours 57 minutes
  • FTSE 100

    -110.82 (-1.39%)
  • FTSE 250

    -282.87 (-1.44%)
  • AIM

    -8.90 (-1.19%)

    -0.0000 (-0.00%)

    -0.0002 (-0.01%)
  • Bitcoin GBP

    -3,652.69 (-6.83%)
  • CMC Crypto 200

    0.00 (0.00%)
  • S&P 500

    -61.59 (-1.20%)
  • DOW

    -248.13 (-0.65%)

    -0.26 (-0.30%)

    +6.20 (+0.26%)
  • NIKKEI 225

    -761.60 (-1.94%)

    -351.49 (-2.12%)
  • DAX

    -250.88 (-1.39%)
  • CAC 40

    -100.76 (-1.25%)

Britain’s longest-running women’s magazine hit by winding-up petition

The Lady Magazine
The Lady, which was first published in 1885, has back taxes worth £360,000 - Keith Morris/Alamy Stock Photo

Britain’s longest-running women’s magazine has been plunged into a row with the taxman over debts worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.

HMRC has issued a winding-up petition against The Lady, which was first published in 1885, over back taxes worth £360,000.

The petition has been served as the magazine is unable to repay its debts, which largely relate to unpaid income tax and national insurance since the pandemic.

A hearing has been set for April in the High Court.

Ben Budworth, publisher and chief executive of The Lady, insisted the company has already agreed to repay the money.

He said he had not received the petition and accused HMRC of failing to keep track of its paperwork.


Mr Budworth said: “We’ve been adhering scrupulously to the payment plan that we’ve been given and have no qualms whatsoever that we’re playing the game as instructed.

“The winding-up petition is more to wind us up than to wind up the company. It’s probably fair to say that HMRC’s paperwork after Covid is more widely distributed than The Lady magazine.”

An HMRC spokesman said: “We take a supportive approach to dealing with customers who have tax debts and only file winding-up petitions once we’ve exhausted all other options, in order to protect taxpayers’ money.”

Rachel Johnson
Rachel Johnson, the sister of former prime minister Boris Johnson, edited The Lady for three years - Contract Number (Programme)/Television Stills

The dispute casts a shadow over one of Britain’s most distinguished publications, which is known for classified ads providing domestic staff for some of the country’s wealthiest families.

The high-society title was founded by Thomas Gibson Bowles, a Tory MP and grandfather of the Mitford sisters who also set up Vanity Fair. Past contributors include Nancy Mitford and Lewis Carroll.

It was immortalised as Milady’s Boudoir, a fictional magazine in PG Woodhouse’s Jeeves series, and also featured in the hit ITV series Downton Abbey.

Rachel Johnson, the sister of former prime minister Boris Johnson, edited the title for three years. The beginning of her tenure was documented in a Channel 4 series The Lady and the Revamp.

The Lady continues to list adverts for butlers, bodyguards, chauffeurs and housekeepers, as well as holidays and properties to rent.

But the company racked up significant losses during the pandemic and circulation of the monthly title has dropped to below 18,000.

The Lady had £1.7m in liabilities at the end of 2022, according to its latest accounts, but is now understood to be making a profit of between £50,000 and £60,000.

The tax row is the latest scandal to embroil The Lady and its aristocratic owners.

In 2019, Mr Budworth sold the publication’s historic offices on Bedford Street in Covent Garden, which it has occupied since 1885, for £12.4m.

He is said to have carried out the sale without the knowledge of his mother Julia, further fuelling divisions with the family matriarch to whom he has not spoken for years.

Staff have since moved to office space on an industrial estate in Borehamwood near Watford.

Mr Budworth attracted criticism during the pandemic when he put himself on furlough during Covid, claiming nearly £2,500 a month in taxpayer money.

He also courted controversy after appointing his wife Helen as the magazine’s editor. The couple live together at Bylaugh Hall, a stately home in Norfolk.

Asked if the family dispute was now resolved, Mr Budworth said it was “as resolved as it needs to be”.