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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

I studied English at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, and I thought I was unemployable. But when I went up I won the Maud Hay scholarship, so I got masses of offers on the milk round: had I thought of a career in detergents, for instance? I hadn't done a stroke of university journalism, but then a woman from the careers service suddenly rang me up to say that someone was recruiting for the Daily Express and she thought it might suit me. She told me just to turn up and profess great admiration for the Daily Express, which I'd never read.

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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