Secretarial: I Work For...: My boss is a low-maintenance celebrity

Monica Patel is pa to Trisha Goddard, presenter of the daytime ITV chat show `trisha'

A YEAR ago I would been horrified at the idea of working in TV. I was involved in the arts as a stage manager and administrator for a black theatre group and, used to scrimping and saving, saw TV people as having more money than they knew what to do with. I never wanted to be a media bimbo. But five months ago I got frustrated by the theatre's emphasis on bums on seats, and applied for a job at Anglia.

I made it clear at the interview that I wanted the job to be mutually beneficial to us both - I would bring skills while learning new ones. Initially I was attracted by the admin aspect but the production and the technical side soon fascinated me. I was employed as a programme coordinator but during my first week Trisha's PA was promoted and I was given her job.

After the upheavals around Vanessa Feltz's sudden departure from ITV, it was a challenge for all of us. I quickly saw how hard people work for their money. Although I hadn't seen Vanessa, or any of the other daytime talk shows, I was aware of their importance. Trisha is very different from a Vanessa or a Jerry Springer type. She seems a little more human to me. She never acts like a celebrity in the office; she's just plain Trisha, and no one suddenly stands to attention when she arrives. When we work late, so does she.

Her personality hasn't changed since she became famous; she will still take her children for a burger down the high street. She's also very much part and parcel of the Norwich community. Bizarrely, Trisha can walk through reception and none of the audience will recognise her until she's in the studio. She is a low-maintenance celebrity to work for, because she's very self-sufficient.

I see little of her personal life because she doesn't rely on anyone to look after her children or her domestic life. The fact of working with an Afro-Caribbean woman makes me feel not exactly smug, but pleased. Norwich isn't a great ethnic capital and I think that Trisha and I are the only two black women within this building. She was in LA the other day and Whoopi Goldberg told her it was great to know that a sister was doing so well.

Most of my day is spent working on shows, liaising with the producers, booking guests for the show, organising travel and hospitality and processing invoices. Like everyone in the team, I always have my eye out for stories. I will never read the Sunday papers in the same way again. I also help Trisha with the enormous amount of correspondence we get from viewers seeking her advice. She tries to answer every one. People relate to her own experiences, including her personal tragedies, because they are important to the way she presents. She knows about deaths and suicides and as an experienced counsellor she can take it all on board. Whoever talent-spotted her knew what they were doing.

Both Trisha and her audience are genuine; there is no acting involved. We don't force people on to the show; it's always something they want to do. Trisha will talk to guests after the show and give them advice, and she also takes notes home and discusses them with her husband. Some guests have terrible life stories, which are distressing. I often wonder how Trisha deals with it. I know she drinks masses of peppermint tea to relax, and offers it to the guests. She also laughs a lot with the team; we need to see the funny side of life.

While the programme is being broadcast the phones don't stop and we have to be ready with a response because people will call about anything - from wanting to contact the guests to complaining about the colour of Trisha's shirt. We also frequently get calls from people who claim to be old friends of Trisha's from Australia. But we have every respect for our viewers because these are the people we rely on. I now know that audience numbers are as important in TV as in the theatre.

I also work for our editor, Sally-Ann Howard, who is much more high-maintenance than Trisha because her work load is huge and she's in constant touch with people such as Dianne Nelmes, controller of daytime ITV. Sally-Ann and I are very close; she uses me both as a sounding-board for ideas and as a means of monitoring the morale of her staff. She's also sympathetic when you are having the odd hormonal moment. It's good to be working for so many strong women. I think I've always been confident in my abilities to work hard and succeed but I wasn't always so confident about bosses; however, working with Trisha and Sally-Ann has been a joy. I don't think Trisha would ever say that the success of the programme was solely down to her; she knows that it's about team magic. I'm off soon to explore new pastures and try out TV drama, and I'd also like to resume my work as a storyteller. But it will be a real wrench to leave. I would recommend this job to anyone.

Interview by Katie Sampson

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