Secretarial: I Work For - Not just knobbly knees

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The Independent Culture
My previous PA role was at the British Standards Institution where new products, from plugs to windows, are tested before they're allowed on to the market. I liked to watch the tests happening, flexes being shaken 10,000 times to make sure that they didn't break, teddy bears' eyes being pulled out and burnt to check their child-safety levels. But I really wanted a job I could be more involved in. So I began looking for work in an area I understood.

Although I'd never visited Butlins, the vacancy appealed to me. I had always liked the Hi-de-Hi image, although that is now a thing of the past. I was told the managing director wanted a Superwoman, which worried me. Yet when I met Tony he wasn't boss-like at all. He was most interested to learn if I was "a people person", but we bonded immediately over a shared love of animals. I have three chinchillas and three cats. He has horses and dogs.

Tony warned me that the job would be hard because I'd arrived slap-bang in the middle of major changes at Butlins. At first I panicked; I simply couldn't believe I would be able to work for a managing director or ever get to know my way around the company.

Although Tony is quite sensible, his background is in the entertainment business. He started as a disc jockey and worked his way up. Old showbiz mates such as Pete Waterman and Martin Lee, from Brotherhood of Man, often call in and I've been amazed how straightforward and friendly they are.

Tony and I laugh a lot. He takes the mickey out of my colourful nail varnish and I tease him back, especially about his recent TV stardom when he was filmed working undercover as a Butlins Redcoat. His nickname was Tony Teabag because he drinks so much tea. His singing was OK, but his dancing left much to be desired. Seeing my boss, the man who has no fear of asking the Rank Board, which owns Butlins, for millions of pounds, terrified at having to perform, made me realise he's just an ordinary guy. We have a closer working relationship as a result.

He's even sent his managers back to the resorts to work as cleaners, waitresses and gardeners. He's become a bit of a celebrity and, as well as fan letters, he gets a flood of calls from companies trying to get his attention. I do such a good job at keeping the callers away that some have tried to poach me.

It wasn't until I stayed at my first Butlins, in Skegness, that I really felt I belonged in my job and was able to understand the business. The complex had little Sixties-style chalets, with entertainers who told mother- in-law jokes and picked on the audience. I loved it. I'm not shy when it comes to participating; an empty dance floor doesn't deter me. I will even dance on a chair if the mood takes me, as it did at the next Butlins I visited in Bognor. It is one of the new-style "resorts" and the change was amazing. The Redcoats wore designer fleeces and the whole thing was altogether trendier. The up-market idea is Tony's baby and he's very proud of it. No more knobbly knees competitions.

It gives me real pleasure to be able to help people have a proper holiday and I love some of the letters we get, such as the one from the retired colonel who asked if the "Mediterranean feel" which the Butlins adverts referred to, was something Tony gives personally.

I think Tony's Redcoat experience has given him new insights into life at Butlins and he is now recognised and approached by customers who feel free to voice their opinions directly to him. The other day, an elderly lady went to our resort in Minehead with a cool box full of strawberries and cream because she wanted to have tea with Tony.

I am particularly interested in the operational side of the business. I like seeing how things fit together, which probably relates back to my days in the BSI testing laboratories. I've overcome my fear of being completely overwhelmed by Butlins and have really settled in. But, being a person who likes to know absolutely everything about her job, I know I've still got some way to go.