Working for the head of the Met was a bit of a frightening prospect, but as I got to know him and build up a rapport the fear gradually subsided. On my first day he asked me to call a chief constable, which was a bit of a daunting reality check because I wasn't used to dealing with people at such a high level. If you work for a well-known person, particularly one who is publicly accountable, you need to be conscious that everything you do reflects on him or her. Fortunately the Commissioner took time out on my first day to explain what he expected of me. This was very helpful to me because it meant that I didn't have to feel my way around the new job or rely on learning from mistakes.
I work from 8am until 5pm, because I have got a young daughter and I like to see her in the evening, which the Commissioner understands, being a family man himself. He is easy-going to work for, both approachable and appreciative. But since he holds an important position it's essential that he's left to deal with matters appropriate to his post. However, I'm careful not to overdo my buffer role, so I make sure that he sees everything he should.
I have two staff supporting me, a senior personal secretary and a typist. Much of my work is concerned with the correspondence; last year we had 6,000 items, all of which had to be registered with the computerised "corrie system". There's no way that the Commissioner can deal with all of the letters; instead the senior personal secretary reads them, suggests where they should go, and then passes them on to me.
Generally, the correspondence is divided into three: I will deal with some of it, including drafting replies; specific communications go to the Commissioner, for example letters from the Home Secretary; and the rest, about 60 to 70 per cent, is passed on to the relevant departments.
Although his jurisdiction lies solely within the metropolitan area, the Commissioner is one of the highest-profile police officers in the country, and the public tend to see him as a figurehead. For example, someone may have a problem with an officer in another constabulary outside the Met's area, but prefer to write to the Commissioner. He also tends to receive rambling letters from vulnerable people writing about almost anything; he also receives "presents" such as bags of sweets, or, in one case, tablets. We could dismiss these, but you never know if it's a cry for help, so if we're worried we contact the local police station who can check up on the senders.
People go to great lengths to send thanks, for example the woman living abroad who wrote to thank two officers for the help they gave her when her husband had a heart attack in the street, and requests for signed photos or for general information are common. The Commissioner always sends a signed letter in a response to letters of appreciation. I very much enjoy the variety, from the Home Secretary's letters right through to the bag of sweets sender; it gives me a good overview. Rambling phone calls have been put through to me, but I now encourage the switchboard to deal with these calls.
I also manage the Commissioner's diary; he already has at least 30 engagements for next year. His meetings include regular appointments with the Home Secretary, official functions such as taking the salute at the Royal Tournament, meetings with senior officers, and so on. My worst nightmare is that one day I may forget to tell the Commissioner about an appointment, which would reflect badly on him and on the Met at large.
Our office is also a central focal point for other stations in search of advice, for example a senior officer who wants to know how to invite a member of the Royal Family to an opening will call or write in, and between us we can usually offer the correct information. I suppose my knowledge has become quite encyclopaedic over the last 18 months.
New Scotland Yard is such a huge building that although you form relationships with the people you work for, others tend to appear as a blur. But I work with a good team; we are supportive of one another, which helps reduce stress, and we gel well, so there's a lot of camaraderie. I'm the only male in an office of four, with the Commissioner working next door, but I share an interest in sport both with the personal secretary and with Sir Paul himself. We often have a good laugh putting the English cricket or football team to rights, for although we have a serious job, a bit of humour can help to ease the stresses and strains. This is a Civil Service position, so the perks are pretty much limited to a season ticket, but I genuinely love my job. The fact that I am a male private secretary is not problematic, except in so far as surprising callers who expect a woman's voice. I guess it's just that people have preconceived notions that secretaries are exclusively female.
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