Media: `I grin like a maniac but it feels like death'
Call it what you like, I've lost the editorship and it feels like death. I am grinning like a maniac and trying to swallow a lump the size of a cannonball. I can't hear the silence because somewhere in my head Concorde is taking off. A hundred or more unblinking faces are taking the news of my replacement as editor of The Mirror with stoicism bordering on cruelty.
But all I can see is Thatcher's face, as familiar as my own mother's, hunched in her limousine behind rain-spattered windows leaving Number Ten. Her right eye, the one nearest the feasting Press, molten with tears.
That was the moment when she knew what it was to lose the best job on earth, the role she thought her birthright.
Now it is my turn.
The managing director is speaking my name, praising my time at the top and, in the same breath, introducing my successor. How hard are the mighty fallen!
I feel nauseous as I scan the faces of staff and colleagues for signs of pleasure or triumph or revenge. I see only outrageous sympathy. And I hate it.
A jumble of crazy, angry thoughts spin in my head as I mealy-mouth familiar words: "Congratulations... richly deserved... thanks for your work and loyalty... please support him as you did me..."
How long have they gossiped behind my back? Was I the last to know? What will I tell my children?
I inform executives that their new editor will meet with them in an hour's time. They nod. More sympathy. And then they are gone, shuffling back to their desks. The newsroom is ablaze with scarcely suppressed excitement.
Inside my room my secretary hugs and consoles. What will become of her, I wonder? We both know that Fleet Street editors' secretaries are at least as vulnerable as their bosses.
The journey home isn't the usual riot, either: my driver, Keith, has become a family friend since the first day he called to collect me. He has become indispensable. Errand boy, courier, stand-in father, minder, collector-from-pubs, restaurant guide, driver (in emergencies - she disapproves of such luxuries) of my wife... all for nought. The new editor, we both know, will have his own man in mind.
As it happens, the company is compassionate. Generous redundancy for my secretary, a director for Keith to drive. Indeed, I keep a chauffeur- driven car for three months while I make "other arrangements".
Three months in which the invitations to receptions, premieres, fancy parties, political soirees dry to a trickle.
Three months in which I go from being a power in the land (hopefully for good) with an automatic "Access All Areas" pass to a "Used-To-Be-But- Isn't-Any-More". Three months in which I rediscover my family, who my friends are, public transport, that nights at the movies aren't always followed by black-tie parties, washing my own car, dinner at home and paying to go to the theatre.
After which I am ready to shrug philosophically - Piers Morgan recently called me "the least bitter former editor" he'd ever met - and carry on.
In the past four years, I'm proud of what I've achieved: persuading Mirror Group that the Internet is a big part of the future; learning the art of broadcasting and using it to the company's benefit; and establishing a group-wide network of internal and external communications.
You see, there is life after editing a national newspaper.
But not much!
The author was editor of The Daily Mirror from 1992-94
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