Secretarial: He keeps the adrenaline running

I Work For: Alison Prince works for Jeffrey Archer, author and candidate for new Mayor of London

I believe that Jeffrey is the most exciting person to be working for in London at the moment. In March 1997 I saw a gossip column saying: "Poor Lord Archer's losing his PA." So I wrote to him. I thought that the story was probably untrue, and my note would go straight into the bin - so I nearly fell off my chair when I got a call to say that Jeffrey had seen my CV and note, liked my handwriting, and wanted to meet me.

I knew that I could do the job, having dealt with top-ranking people for the last seven years while working for a small business/government relations body, but I was still fairly nervous. Jeffrey pretty much dominates a room and has a lot of charisma, but we hit it off.

It's hard to be specific about a job that involves the whole of his life, including private parties, politics, his art collection, publishing, business, television, travel and also the overseeing of his household.

I thought that I would be working principally on his books, but the focus suddenly changed when the proposal for a mayor of London was announced. It was just before the 1997 general election and things became frantic.

Since then we've met all kinds of fascinating people and organisations, from the Pearly King to the Pedestrian Association and Trees for London. I've learnt so much more about London and, at his suggestion, I write down everything that I think is wrong with it - from the Tango Christmas lights in Oxford Street, to the overcrowded Underground.

I really appreciate the fact that he chats to me about newspaper stories and asks for my opinions - though preferably not when I am on a deadline. His priorities are slightly different from mine. He likes to clear his desk by the end of the day, which means that mine becomes full again.

He deals with things on a need-to-know basis while I deal with 75 per cent of the mail, ranging from a letter from a Japanese student wanting a signed photo, to an American asking about one of the characters in a book Jeffrey wrote 10 years ago.

I absolutely love the fact that he trusts me enough to allow me to take the pressure off, so that he can concentrate on the bigger picture. He freely admits that he's impatient and wants things to be done immediately. He is very demanding, but it keeps the adrenaline running and I look forward to Mondays because I don't know what the week will hold.

He has a great respect for women but you have to stand up to him; he doesn't suffer fools gladly. He's not a dictator, and I am able to say: "I don't think that's a very good idea, Jeffrey."

He has enormous energy and it's hard to keep up with him; on occasion I've found myself taking notes while following him out through the door. You have to be calm to do this job because it would be easy to panic during the times as awful as the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, when everyone wanted his opinion as a friend of hers, and I had to co-ordinate all the interviews.

I know the person behind the public persona, so when strangers approach him I catch myself thinking, "Good grief, what do they want Jeffrey's autograph for?" You forget that he is looked on as a celebrity.

When he gets attacked I feel personally offended. He inspires all sorts of emotions, but he doesn't deserve to be criticised just for being a bit of a showman.

Perhaps he feels people expect him to be a bit over the top; it's almost as though he is trying to give people value for money. Yet when you see him with his sons or with his wife, Mary, he's completely different.

I've seen him fairly low at one point, but he copes extremely well. He's an open person, and he really wants to do a great job for London.

He's a maverick, yes, but why would you want a dull politician? He knows everyone and loves entertaining, and I've got used to welcoming celebrities such as Michael Caine and Billy Connolly.

I'm here from eight until six or seven at night and am aware that my life sometimes comes second to what he is doing. I'm in awe of his ability to be down to earth and get on with the business of politics, and then to be able to write a best-seller.

When he's writing a book he handwrites the first draft, which I will type up, and then the manuscript will go through a number of rewrites.

He sometimes asks for my opinion about some of his characters, but I've never altered the train of a story. He also practises his speeches, and even jokes, on me - some of which, I have to admit, are funnier than others. I was nervous for him during his hustings speech when he stood as a mayoral candidate, and relieved when he got past the first hurdle.

Having got involved in his world, I think I know him pretty well now. If he were made mayor I hope that I could move with him - we work well as a team, so I don't see why he would want to give that up.

The Archer family is a big part of my life.

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