Secretarial: I Work For... Heaven can wait, for now
Wednesday 21 July 1999
From the age of 18 I've wanted to be a priest. I took a theology degree and then joined the Archbishop of Canterbury's director of communications as his PA for two and a half years. I worked with the archbishop himself and grew to respect him. But I ran into direct homophobia from very senior figures in the Church and remain quite uncomfortable with the church's line on the gay issue.
I don't wear my sexuality on my sleeve, so why should it affect my professionalism? Coming here was a case of needing to fill 18 months while my application for the priesthood is being considered. Also I felt Ivan Massow was a guy I could work for on an ethical basis: he's a bit of an icon and has made waves in the gay community. Basically he's a very flash insurance salesman, who has changed the industry, having been the first person to make available the kind of financial resources gay people or anyone HIV- positive were excluded from. Yet I believe if you want to work for "The" Ivan Massow you probably shouldn't as the man you see in a magazine is likely to be very different from the real thing.
Ivan and I both have a similarly "I'm gay, so what?" attitude. He is very much an outsider who was brought up by four different families; is dyslexic, and without the benefit of quality education, yet he has "done good". Yes, he's a fox-hunting Master of Hounds and a Tory who also campaigns for Stonewall, but what's wrong with a paradox? People attack him for being a Tory, a fox-hunter or because he's gay - it comes from both sides and I get caught in the middle so I tend to keep quiet about who I work for.
When I met him for the first time I obviously recognised his good looks but since he wasn't the type I go for, it wasn't a problem, although I have often been asked "are you Ivan's secret boyfriend?" My second impression was: "God, you are quiet. What are you thinking?" It's hard to read his expression and he doesn't often say what's on his mind because he's dealing with things internally. At heart he's quite a shy person, but he's very committed and that forces him to come out of his shell.
I'm quite thick-skinned. I take my satisfaction in what I do, rather than who Ivan is. The last thing you want your PA to say at the end of the day is: "Why did you snap at me?" I can accept the fact he's off in his own little world. Sure, he has lots of money and is famous, but actually I've got my own past, present and future so I'm not trying to be him. I've got my own achievements: I have twice been British Powerlifting Champion; have overcome dyslexia myself; and my sights are set on becoming a priest - I know who I am.
Ivan is quite good at looking after his extra-curricular activities himself, but at the moment he is being pulled in many directions. I was made PA to him and Fania, his Operations Director, when I suggested that the secretary was clearly overloaded. Not only is Ivan busy running the business and advising the clients, but he is also working on his new role as chairman of the ICA, and his long-standing commitment to the Conservative Party.
Recently he was put under pressure by people he had never met at Conservative Central office to stand as their [London] mayoral candidate. I could see that he was obviously torn between something he could clearly succeed at and his personal apprehensions over his lack of political experience. He didn't want to be accused of playing the gay card. Just 15 minutes before the deadline last Friday he decided, in keeping with his character, to trust his instincts and stand down. But he took his application and acceptance speech with him, just in case he changed his mind on the way. On one level I was relieved that the office would return to a semblance of normality. But it was also fantastically disappointing because there went my chances of becoming PA to the Mayor of London.
My role is as his facilitator: he certainly doesn't need mothering. My job involves practical, hands-on stuff at all levels. I look after the post and e-mails, file, troubleshoot when the computers play up - or when Ivan's dog Freddie has pulled out the cable - change light bulbs, organise interviews and speak with the clients. The sheer volume of calls is amusing. He is hot property. But when you've had a bad hair day and Lord Such- and-Such wants to be treated as royalty and thinks he's too important to talk to an assistant it can be frustrating. Often I'm exactly the person they need to speak to as I'm the one with the information. Besides, as we joke in the office: "Nobody speaks to the Wizard."
I'm very ordinary really, and people expect this job to be all glitzy, whereas my other job, the Church, was more glamorous. At the moment I am going through the Church selection process. If the Church wants me, fine, but if they don't I will thoroughly enjoy developing my role here. Meantime, the two careers are not opposed. Just like a PA, a parish priest has to delegate, offer help and "police" as well as being hands on. I want to get the Church involved in what would be seen as PR and media, or in Church terms, outreach and mission. The church needs a sexier image, perhaps we need a few vicars in Porsches.
I really don't know if Ivan is religious. I don't necessarily support all he does - I'm not a Tory - but I can give him my commitment as a professional ally, and obviously I have to believe in him or we wouldn't be working so closely. He has challenged so many people on many different levels while being quite pro-Establishment, yet I think he is driven by more than success for its own sake. He has a notion of creating an equality of opportunity, so people can get on with their own lives.
Would people have been ready for Ivan Massow as mayor? Well, I think he celebrates diversity and can champion outsiders, and he's also a good team worker. London has been good for him and he'd be good for it: that's why Tory Central Office has encouraged him to apply to become an MP.
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