HOW WE MET; HELENA KENNEDY AND CLAIRE RAYNER

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The Independent Culture
The criminal barrister Helena Kennedy QC regularly broadcasts and writes on law and women's rights. She also chairs Charter '88 and is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. Aged 45, she lives with her family in London. The agony aunt Claire Rayner OBE is a regular broadcaster. She has written more than 90 books, from novels to sex education guides. Aged 65, she lives with her husband in north London; they have three children

HELENA KENNEDY: Claire and I met when we were both judging the Golden Dagger award for the best crime novel of the year seven or eight years ago. I was invited on to the judging panel because I am a practitioner in the criminal field, and also because I enjoy reading crime fiction.

I knew Claire from her writing in magazines and newspapers, and I think I had probably seen her on television. I thought she was a great communicator. She always sounded very earthy about women's issues and I thought I would enjoy her company - but I hadn't been prepared for how immediate the clicking would be. We liked a lot of the same things about some of the books and argued about writing and story lines. I remember we resisted going for the obvious choice, but in the end we gave the award to Colin Dexter for a Morse book. Claire was wearing trousers and a colourful tunic shirt that day. She always looks stylish. She was sitting at a table talking as I walked into the room, but immediately, I was included in the conversation.

We exchanged telephone numbers, and soon after that first meeting Claire invited my husband and me to a party at her home. Claire has a great sense of humour and her husband, Des, is a dynamic, attractive man who wears his hair in a pony-tail. They are a very dramatic couple and have a very vital and successful marriage. My husband, Ian, is a surgeon and as Claire is a qualified nurse and very involved with health issues, they have very energetic conversations about medical matters.

One thing about Claire that surprised me was the breadth of her knowledge. I think she's much more of an intellectual than people give her credit for. She's very good at turning an agenda that is perceived to be one that interests the chattering classes into something that's real for everybody.

We discovered early in our relationship that we have a number of friends in common. We both mix with a lot of people in the arts world and know a number of politicians. Politically we are in tune. Claire is friendly with the Kinnocks and I am a card-carrying member of the Labour Party. I don't know whether Claire is actually a member, but I know she is a supporter. What really forged our friendship was campaigning together. I chair Charter '88, the organisation which lobbies for constitutional change, and Claire is a very active member, campaigning particularly for freedom of information.

I have read a number of Claire's books. I like her protagonist, Dr Barnabus, who is a woman pathologist, in her latest series. Occasionally, Claire has asked for my advice on a legal point when writing but her imagination is such that she needs no help with plots.

There is a 20-year difference in age between us, but I am totally unconscious of it. My children love coming to her home. We visit as a family. Sometimes Ian and I come as a couple, sometimes I drop in on my own. Often, Claire and I meet for lunch. That's one area where we differ. Claire enjoys her food, whereas I watch my weight and resist her blandishments. She is an excellent cook. She's one of those people who can have something delicious bubbling away on the stove while she's writing in another room.

Claire seems surprised by her good fortune in life. I don't think she realises that she works far harder than most people do. There are times when I think she doesn't look after herself and should rest up more - but Des is very, very solicitous of her and is a really great partner.

Claire is a great teaser, a great chuckler and a source of constant surprise. I would never dream of betraying any of her confidences, but I know there are many things which she does which are about helping people in a very direct way. She does a lot of good that people don't know about.

Claire's great humanity stems from the fact that her life has not been all plain sailing. When she was young she had a tough time and I think people know that. I don't think she has any regrets about her life, but I think she would have made a very good lawyer or an incredibly good doctor.

CLAIRE RAYNER: Right from the beginning, Helena and I hit it off. We met when we were on a committee judging crime novels; I remember we giggled a lot. We've giggled ever since.

The first time I saw her, I thought she was fascinating. She's witty and funny and has this marvellous Scottish accent. She's a tiny scrap of a thing compared to me - she's not much more than 5ft and I'm 5ft 9in and built like a bus - but it was ages before I noticed how little she is. I was also quite unaware of the age disparity.

After that meeting, we kept bumping into each other at various functions. We were both involved in a campaign to help women who are suffering violence in the home and are concerned with the injustices women suffer in general. I thought her book, Eve was Framed, was brilliant. And, my God, it's so passionate.

Helena and I think along the same lines. She trusts her children like people, not possessions. We both have two boys and a girl. I don't think she has any more trouble balancing family and career than I did. In a sense, it is like watching someone come up the road I came up myself. I recognise and admire her drive and ambition.

I've never seen her in action in court, but I have seen her on television and I'd be scared if she was on the opposing side. She is a powerful fighter. I've heard her in debate being very sharp with people who are stupid, but she does it with great urbanity. She has a conciseness of speech that I admire and envy because when I get really passionate I might get a bit prolix instead of coming up with a good, sharp line.

Helena comes from Glasgow and she had it tough. She's a working- class girl who made it, and that's something else I admire, because that's my background, too. Sometimes I feel intimidated by Helena's intellect. I think, "Oh God, if only I could think as clearly and concisely." I've learnt a lot from speaking on platforms with her. We are both involved with Charter '88 which was founded to look at our institutions and see if some of them need fixing. My biggest passion is campaigning for a freedom of information bill. There are too many secrets in Britain. I would also like a sharp, clear look at the monarchy. I'm opposed to anything that is hereditary - both Helena and I want to change the world.

Helena could turn her hand to anything. She'd be a fine politician. She doesn't hesitate to take a stand. If she thinks things are wrong, she'll say so. She's a intelligent, lively, capable girl who's a good wife and mother. If I was in trouble I'd go to Helena. Once, when I had taken a stand on something and there was a possibility that I might have been sued, Helena said, "I'll be there". She volunteered; I didn't have to ask. She hasn't asked for my help directly, but I'm here for her and she knows that.

Now and again we take different sides about things. For example, I'm not terribly sympathetic towards the Princess of Wales's so-called plight. I think it's time the lady pulled herself together and got on with living and stopped making a pest of herself. Helena has more sympathy for her.

I think Helena overstretches herself sometimes - as I do. No woman can run the lives Helena and I do without a good deal of support from other people, and Helena's employees are devoted to her and stay with her for years. I'm convinced that she will be our first woman Lord Chancellor. !

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