MY NEWS EDITOR LOATHED ME. I WAS EVERYTHING HE DIDN'T LIKE - A WOMAN, WITH A LA-DI-DA ACCENT, WHO CAME FROM THE SOUTH, WHO'D BEEN OXBRIDGE- EDUCATED AND WHO'D BEEN HIRED ON THE MILK ROUND
Monday 09 June 1997
But they were offering a lot of money, and so I thought I'd do it temporarily. I got the job, but nobody mentioned that I was going to have to start at the Manchester office. I loathed Manchester, loathed the job, and I was loathed by my news editor because I was everything he didn't like - a woman, with a la-di-da accent, who came from the south, who'd been Oxbridge-educated and who'd been hired on the milk round. In fact, if he hadn't hated me so much, and I hadn't hated him, I would probably have left journalism at this point, but the iron entered my soul and I decided I would leave the job on my terms.
He gave me the worst jobs possible, like being sent out in a blizzard one day to doorstep a dwarf who said he'd been to school with Cary Grant. I also had to do slip editions - special inserts for, say, the Blackpool Gift Fair, where I'd have to fill four pages with so-called news stories about gifts in Blackpool. But that was bloody good training, and I was given my own page after a while, which enraged the news editor even more. Then I was summoned down to Fleet Street, and was given a column with the very embarrassing headline of "She's young, she's provocative, and she's only 22". I thought when I got to 23 my career would be over, clearly, but thus it started.
But I didn't like writing a column at all. I didn't like just sitting around pontificating, and I also thought that at 22 I didn't know very much to pontificate about. I was always aware that this was because it was the Sixties, and everyone had to be young and hip. I liked reporting and feature-writing, and when I managed to get rid of the column, everyone thought I was completely mad. But my only ambition was to be well-paid and have a terrific amount of fun, and although I was being well paid, I wasn't having fun.
Then David English, who was then on the Daily Express's foreign desk, started sending me on foreign jobs, somewhat against the advice of the old-timers. He was very good to me, because I did balls it up a couple of times. After a while I wanted to have the New York bureau - only to be told that no woman ran a bureau - but David said that when he became editor, which we all thought he would, I could have New York. But after a while it became clear to me that David was not going to get the editor's job, so I decided to try different kinds of journalism and went freelance.
I started working for magazines, mostly: I wrote for Nova, which was a very Sixties, trendsetting magazine, and for Harper's & Queen. Then David did finally get an editorship, of the Daily Sketch, and he asked me to go and join him, but by then I didn't want to be employed by people; I loved being my own person. Later, though, he got the editor's job at the Daily Mail, and that time we came to an arrangement. I can't write for other newspapers, but I do masses of broadcasting and write the odd piece for American magazines.
I just think it's a great job, and I believe in that old cliche that journalism is the rough draft of history. I was there when the Berlin Wall came down, and that was probably the most exciting job of my life. I was inside the jail when Nelson Mandela first came out; in Moscow at the time of the coup against Gorbachev; and I shall be in Hong Kong for the handover at the end of this month. It's exhausting, but it's a massive privilege to be allowed to do all that and get paid for it.
I've never wanted any executive power - I've been offered lots of editorships in the past - because I just love the raw stuff of journalism. I like working on my own, going to strange places and thinking: "Can I crack this job?" I think anyone who goes into journalism won't last unless they really love the business and have that kind of endless curiosityn
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