Secretarial: This is the job of the century

I Work For... Cherie Williams is PA to Jennie Page, chief executive of the New Millennium Experience Company
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I went to work in my family's print and graphics company 11 years ago, on the day I left home. There were never any disagreements between us, but four years later, in 1992, the company folded. It was at that point that I applied for a job as a junior secretary to Jennie Page, then chief executive of English Heritage.

I found her an incredible woman and not one for hesitation. Very powerful, inspirational and on top of things. I very much enjoyed working for her but I was also very happy to be with English Heritage so I remained there when Jennie left to head the Millennium Commission in '95. We really missed each other and when Jennie asked me to join her I was torn, but in the end I agreed to move.

I knew that one of the reasons I enjoyed working with her so much is because she makes my mind grow. Not only does she explain things along the way, but she also keeps you on your toes and allows you to follow in her footsteps so you don't have to keep running back for help.

As characters we are both quite strong and forceful. Nothing fazes me and I'm not scared to go into a big meeting full of VIPs. If someone tells me that they haven't done something I will say, "Fine, but you will need to explain why to Jennie." When Jennie barks at you, you get a very clear message: as a "doer" she doesn't like being presented with problems without answers.

Working for the Millennium Commission was strange because the Millennium itself seemed so far away and unreal. In '97 the government set up the Millennium Experience and appointed Jennie as its head. Again I had to make the decision whether I should stay with the Commission or join a new company which could, at that stage, be cut back by the incoming government. The whole situation seemed bizarre and my mind was in turmoil, not helped by the fact that once I did decide to join, we moved offices three times in six months. At that stage, apart from the packing and unpacking, my job was pure admin, enabling the project to get up and running.

I met Peter Mandelson when he was put in charge of overseeing the Dome. He appeared to be very competent, able, charming, interested in the staff and eager to thank us for our work. Unfortunately others weren't so appreciative. I must say that it was hard to carry on doing what one knew was a good job when the whole project was constantly being slated by people who misunderstood it. So many people seemed against us that after a while I stopped telling anyone where I worked.

But in February '97 we had a big launch of the models of the zones to be built in the Dome at the Royal Festival Hall. For the first time everything began to take shape and become a reality. It was great to have people on our side at last, for the Experience was clearly no longer just a stupid idea. I remember Jennie looking at the models and saying, "Can you believe we've actually done this?" Everyone felt proud.

I now spend half of my time in our London offices and half in our Portakabin next to the Dome where, amongst other things, Jennie shows security teams, sponsors and government ministers around the site. It's very strange to put on a hard hat and high visibility clothes just to pop out for lunch, but I really like the atmosphere. With all the production staff and the builders around and everyone mucking in, it's much more interesting than an ordinary office.

It's very hard to describe the growing sense of excitement as we get closer - we are all wishing that New Year's Eve could just be here now, it's both so near and so far away. When we have a long day we will all go out for a drink to let off steam and I have been investigating sound- proofing in my office so that I can shout from time to time. I am stressed at the moment, but aren't we all stressed about the Millennium?

I'm very proud of what I do and I think people are beginning to understand why. Even my best friend, who had been cynical about my job, was very impressed when she saw inside the Dome. I've never been one for New Year's Eve - I tend to get a bit maudlin. I remember thinking as a kid how old I would be on the night of the Millennium and I don't want to be reminded of that.

But I think the Millennium marks new beginnings too. Of course I will be in the Dome itself on the night, supporting Jennie and holding her hand - and I really wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

It would be very hard for a new person to take my place, because Jennie and I are so close and have known each other for so many years that I can usually pre-empt her.

She's under strict orders not to make a hair appointment without consulting me, because I deal with much of her home stuff - including the builders who are currently working on her house. She must be a sucker for punishment.

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