A year and a half ago I broke my arm and decided to stay off work until it had healed. But my agency rang to tell me that they had a fun, exciting job with a man at Pret A Manger who was quite difficult to work for, and convinced me to go to the interview despite the fact that it was scheduled for 8am.
While the personnel officer was telling me that I wouldn't meet the chairman unless I got through to a second or third interview, Julian himself appeared and dragged me off to his office.
After firing questions at me for five minutes he hired me on the spot. I accepted the job immediately because I was intrigued by Julian's oddness.
I had always thought that successful men wore grey suits and talked business, but here was a man in blue velvet trousers and a Pret t-shirt sampling cheese throughout the interview and offering it to me. I thought I had blown it when I heard myself tell Julian that his vegetarian sandwiches were too soggy. But he instantly reacted, ringing the supplier and shouting "bring me the vegetarian cream cheese". I couldn't believe that I had landed a job which would allow me to be myself.
Julian is the creative force to the company, his partner Sinclair Beecham is the businessman. If you walked into the office you wouldn't believe that Julian was the boss. He wanted to sit on the desk beside mine to be in with all of us, but I persuaded him that as Chairman he needed his own office. Mind you, he still often answers the phone. As the company gets bigger Julian is going to have to stop trying to do things himself. The stationery supplier called the other day, asking for Julian because he thought he was the office manager.
His diary is completely up to me, I book all his appointments, tell him what he is doing during the day, make sure he has his keys and his money for taxis and occasionally buy presents for his kids. Suppliers often send in samples and Julian himself often appears laden with goodies and out comes the Mothers Pride as we make up sample sandwiches. The visits from the cake woman are always looked forward to. What other PA can say that sampling chocolate cake is part of her job?
I'm actually not a sandwich eater myself. Julian jokes that if I had my way we'd be selling peanut-butter and chocolate sandwiches and shepherd's pie. Being a chocaholic I eat Pret's chocolate mousse for lunch - having worked out that the calorie count was the same as for one of our sandwiches. I don't go out for lunch myself, partly because that's when we get the bulk of our telephone calls. Our number is on all the packaging inviting people to call if they have suggestions, so people invariably ring during their lunch hour.
Julian gets quite passionate if a staff member has a problem and will spend hours discussing it with them. I often have to scratch on his window to remind him of his other appointments. I used to find work quite emotionally draining, particularly when Julian was in a bad mood, but since my job is to make his life run smoothly I now know how to calm him down or just to leave him be. He's very apologetic afterwards and his sunny moods make up for the dark ones because he is so enthusiastic and appreciative.
When he's inspired there's no stopping him, I've heard the waves lapping against the boat he was calling me from while on holiday and he has been known to call people late into the night with a brain wave.
If I am out for dinner the conversation always turns to Pret, so I quite often take ideas away with me and give them to Julian next day. His motto is "always exceed the customers expectations" because he's such a perfectionist. One woman even received a silver Tiffany yo-yo from Julian by way of apology. If someone complains I can send them vouchers myself.
A lot of chairmentreat PAs like dirt, expecting you to exist purely for them. Before I came here I thought I was a secretary because I didn't go to University, but Julian's brilliant: if I really want something I can go for it. I recently suggested that I experience other aspects, so now I visit other sites once every three weeks, making sandwiches or coffee and meeting staff.
I can't help but be honest with him: when I rang, too ill from a hangover to come in, I admitted it. Of course he was furious but I think he appreciated my honesty. There's a lot of loyalty among Pret people, if my friends bought coffee or sandwiches elsewhere they'd have me to deal with.