CV: TESSA HILTON Deputy editor, The Express

I MUST HAVE BEEN A NEWS EDITOR'S DREAM, BECAUSE I TOOK IT ALL SO SERIOUSLY; WHEN THEY TOLD ME TO GO BACK AND KNOCK ON THE DOOR AGAIN, I DID

I didn't want to be a journalist at all - my father was a journalist and it seemed a very boring thing to do. When I was 18 I worked as a very lowly assistant stage manager at Watford Palace Theatre, and I wanted to be an actress.

But I couldn't get into any acting schools at all, and I thought I'd have a go at journalism. After all this failure I suddenly met with lots of offers of places, and in 1970, I went on the Mirror Group training scheme. There, I met David Montgomery, who's been a formative factor in my career.

Then I was offered a job on The Sun in London, but I wanted to go to Manchester because my boyfriend, Graham Ball, was working there. I got a news reporter's job on the Sunday Mirror in Manchester, and I must have been a news editor's dream, really, because I took everything incredibly seriously; when they told me to go back and knock on the door again, I did. It was an amazing time: reporters worked a four-day week then, and we had these incredible lunches with lots of heavy drinking which went on until about six in the evening.

I then went to the Sunday Mirror in London, and spent another two years as a news reporter, during which time I got married. I then had eight years at home, bringing up my first two children and, later, freelancing - I started writing for Mother and Baby, and later women's magazines like Woman. And in 1984, because I was writing a lot about health and children, I was approached by Great Ormond Street Hospital, who wanted someone to write the Great Ormond Street Book of Child Health.

I was actually not going to return to work after I'd done that, but in 1985 I was offered a job as editor of Mother magazine. I didn't like the thought of my children being looked after by other people, though, so I negotiated a deal which meant that two afternoons a week I could leave at two o'clock to meet them from school.

I don't think I would have gone back into newspapers if it hadn't been for David Montgomery. I did a Royal story for Mother which was quite a scoop, and I sent it to all my old pals on Fleet Street - including David, who was then editing the News of the World. He got in touch and asked me what I was doing, and when he went to be editor of Today, he offered me a job there. But I still had this big thing about not being away from my kids too much so I said no.

But after a while he rang up and said it would be all right for me to work a four-day week, and so I did go there in 1987, to be family editor. In a short space of time I got very caught up in it all, and I became features editor, and then associate editor. I spent four years there, before going to The Mail to be Femail editor. It was the last year of David English's editorship, and he taught me a lot about layout and production, which I didn't really know about before.

I left the Mail in 1994, and was associate editor at The Sun, very briefly. Then I was editor of the Sunday Mirror, which, sadly, didn't work out in the long term. The idea was to take the paper more into the middle market, and I learned there is a very large gulf between the way that readers of those red-tops think and respond, and how the middle-market readers behave. I think that perhaps the strategy I wanted to take the title into that market wasn't really feasible, and so I came to The Express.

When I left the Sunday Mirror I really wanted to be a magazine editor, but at The Express I had the fantastic opportunity to launch the Saturday magazine, and then Boulevard, the Sunday magazine. The Saturday magazine is my real baby - I'm still editor-in-chief of the two magazines - and it was the first time I had the chance to express my personality in journalism. I think the most successful publications are the personalities of the people editing them - The Sun was Kelvin MacKenzie, and The Mail was David English, and is now Paul Dacre.

My career has been accidental, really. There's no real career path in newspapers: you go where people invite you to go. I went to The Sun because Stuart Higgins rang me up, and to The Mail because David English rang me up. Each job has been a huge learning curve, and since The Express launched its seven-day operation, I've been learning even moren

Interview by Scott Hughes

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