I work for ... Douglas Adams

Sophie Astin is PA to the writer and creative director of The Digital Village multiple-media publishing company.
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The Independent Culture
Being a PA is not a career I ever would have chosen for myself - I'm not even qualified as a secretary. I graduated with a French degree three years ago and after a brief spell in advertising I began looking for something permanent. I heard that Douglas Adams was looking for a PA and his company, The Digital Village, sounded fun because it involved film, TV and the Internet. I hadn't read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy or any of Douglas's other books so it came as a surprise to see just how famous he is.

My first impression of him was actually as far removed from his real character as one could imagine. He's 6ft 6ins, big and bear-like, and I was quite intimidated by him. It's funny now to see others who meet him for the first time also reacting in awe. In reality he's the most approachable, easy-going and humorous person I know. I mentioned to him that I was a big Monty Python and John Cleese fan, and before I knew it he had bought two very expensive seats for me to see the premiere of Fierce Creatures. He also once sent me over to John Cleese's house on a completely fabricated errand just so I could meet him; unfortunately it was a wasted journey because John wasn't there.

I don't know many people who can say that during their working day they spoke with Griff Rhys Jones and Stephen Fry on the phone and then met Terry Jones. I hadn't worked for a celebrity before I came here so I probably handled things quite inappropriately at first. For example I would try to book a table at a restaurant for Douglas, only to be told there were no vacancies because I hadn't told them who the table was for.

Douglas is very much a colleague who works with us five days a week. He is incredibly wired when it comes to all things technological, scientific and environmental. A lot of my time is spent booking him to give talks around the world, but it was over a year before I saw him give a lecture myself - it was quite an eye-opener to hear him talk about the environment and the impact of the technological world on the future. Watching him go up on stage gave me the kind of pang I might have got from watching a member of my own family address an audience.

One of the things I first noticed about the office was that we get hardly any post and very few phone calls because everyone uses e-mail. The prospect of working with new technology scared me rigid at first. But e-mail is easy to use and has revolutionised the way we operate because it halves the amount of time it takes to organise anything. I deal with Douglas's fan mail on a daily basis and find it interesting to see the kind of people who make up his core fans, from a retired teacher in Devon to a 10-year- old kid in Idaho. Sometimes we receive absurd requests for Douglas to write wedding speeches or college essays, which of course he's too busy to do, but if he's got time he will write back with tips.

Douglas is a strange combination of the witty, the sharp and the rather scatty, almost like an absent-minded professor who would not survive a second without a PA. I've been told that I am a fairly good organiser in terms of compartmentalising projects and making sure things get done.

The busier the office gets the more fun my job becomes and I've never woken up in the morning and groaned at the prospect of coming to work. For the past 18 months we have been busy designing and producing a ground- breaking interactive computer game called Starship Titanic. For the first time players are able to talk to the characters and hear them talk back.

My colleagues include 3D artists and programmers but it's not a nerdy environment. The company's approach is a hard-working one but also fairly laid-back and everyone has the opportunity to have their say. Each of us has played a part in nurturing this game and as Douglas's PA I don't feel any less important than the programmers or designers, though I am completely in awe of the people who have created Starship Titanic. People have said we have an American way of working, for example we have futons in the office so if any of the team needs to work on into the night they can. I'm much more conservative, I usually work from nine until six.

Last year when I was asked to programme part of our intranet site I silently freaked out. I thought there would be no way I would be able to master it, but once I got going with it on my own it began to make more sense and I had the whole thing up and running before the week was over. I got a real sense of accomplishment from having done it. But deep down I'm not a techie and I don't think I ever will be.

As a PA you have a unique relationship with your boss; you need to to be quite controlling and firm in order to keep the diary working. But I like looking after Douglas, it's never a monotonous job. I feel very much part of the furniture now and can't imagine not being here.

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