I work for Max Clifford: Ali Lipman, 24, is PA to the publicist

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The Independent Online
I came to work for Max Clifford two and a half years ago just after I left university. I admit that a Classics degree is a strange route to PR but I knew that I wanted to learn about the world and the media. The David Mellor story had just emerged and I reckoned there was no one better than Max to learn the business from, so I wrote asking for work experience. I would love to say that I was employed for my skills, but really it was a matter of right place, right time and making Max laugh; it's essential that we get on well together. I'm your most untypical PR person, not Ab Fab at all. Coming from a comfortable middle-class background I don't think that I had ever properly read a tabloid before I came here, but now Grandpa ticks me off because Gran rings me for juicy sex stories.

Max is like the circus plate spinner, I help load the plates but he's the one who keeps them in the air. I need to be highly organised and able to make decisions quickly as well as keeping abreast of events, but there's very little formal routine or hierarchy and I constantly redefine my own role. I had temped throughout my holidays so PA skills were second nature to me, but almost all of the work here is done on the phone. I organise Max's diary, telephone, radio and newspaper interviews, deal with stories, arrange media coverage and ensure everyone knows what's going on and that bills are paid. We have regular discussions as a team and I feel very much included, particularly when I see one of my ideas come to fruition.

I really enjoy being a linchpin; all the inquiry calls from the media or prospective clients come through me. With a big story with worldwide inquiries, such as OJ Simpson's UK visit, I get up to 200 calls a day. Only a tiny percentage of prospective clients get through to Max. I decide who he would want to see almost by instinct, he won't work with people he doesn't believe in so a lot depends on the personality of the person contacting us and I don't find that I have to reserve judgement.

I also act as Agony Aunt too when sobbing clients turn up at the office. It was a shock when I first encountered how people can get turned over by the tabloids, it's hard not to become cynical. But I don't have a lot of personal contact with our big celebrity clients. I only met OJ once during his UK tour, for example. Mandy Allwood was an exception, it was a more intense relationship and I think my biggest buzz was when I got her on to Oprah. To do this job well I need to keep my feet on the ground and not be impressed by famous visits. It's equally dangerous for a celebrity to believe in the image Max creates for them.

Trust is a crucial part of my relationship with Max. Any other employer might disapprove of my living with four journalists, but he knows I would never break a confidence. I hear plenty of stories of naughty goings on, including unpleasant revelations which I would rather not know. I have encountered more strange, weird and wonderful oddballs than I ever thought was possible. All my friends tell me I am far too secretive but I'm not remotely interested in which star is at it with whom. What fascinates me is what makes the celebrity world tick, how a story gets into the press and how you can influence that process.

Clients keep in touch, popping in to the office to have tea, cakes and a chat with us because the family atmosphere, with all the laughter and teasing, appeals to them. I work opposite Max and he send me into terrible fits of giggles, pulling faces or crawling around the floor barking as someone calls with another ridiculous pet story.

It's not glamorous behind the scenes, we don't go to the big posh parties and openings as a matter of policy. The only one we went to was the opening of the Football Football bar in the West End and for once I was completely star struck and began collecting autographs. My job is mostly office bound but we are always invited to see Max on programmes like Have I Got News For You.

I don't start until 10am and lunch is usually out of the question, I simply don't have time, but I like working in an environment that's fast and where no day is the same. I usually finish work at 6.30 or 7pm. I don't wear a suit, today, for example, I am wearing sandals and beach clothes. I've never made a humungous cock-up, although I did once send Max to the wrong restaurant and he still teases me about it.

As a first job it's out of this world and a fantastic grounding, but I couldn't stay on forever. I know that the next place I work at won't have the same warmth or the same sense of fun and I can't imagine working for someone else. Although there aren't many perks I'm still spoilt rotten by Max, he gave me a football signed by the Liverpool team for my birthday. What other boss would be so imaginative?