I joined the BBC training scheme in 1978, and found it stupendously old- fashioned. I was 25, and, though I wasn't married then, I remember being asked at one of the interviews whether I had a boyfriend. The implication was: "Obviously, then, you're going to have children, and won't carry on working."
I knew, though, that I wanted to be a political correspondent, and I ended up working at Westminster for BBC regional television. But I was very naive: one evening I went out to dinner with Alan Clark, who picked me up in his Rolls-Royce. Later, when he had to go off and vote, I ran off and hid, for as naive as I was, I knew there was a slight risk that things would have developed. I found out afterwards that he uses the Roller on occasions like that because there's more space on the back seat, and, when I read his diaries, I discovered that he thinks all women are pursuing him. I thought back to all the times I talked to him in the lobby about politics, during which he must have thought I was lusting after him.
The chances of promotion at the BBC seemed non-existent. A friend of mine from the training course had gone to work for Channel 4 News, and she suggested I come on over. I did go, but back then - this was 1984 - it looked like we might get shut down any day as Channel 4 News was very dodgy then. But it was a very young operation, which meant that they gave everyone loads of chances, and it was there I made the decision that I wanted to be "in charge". I was very short-sighted in my understanding of power, though: I'd thought the way to get power was to be a reporter, but I came to realise that it was editors who have the power.
I finally became a political correspondent for Channel 4 News in 1988, and then I had my first daughter. I carried on being a political correspondent for a year after that, but I got increasingly bad-tempered about being made to go away from home, and found it very unsatisfactory. In 1992, I had my second daughter - I spent the last general election at home on maternity leave - but fortunately they then needed someone to present the 12 o'clock political programme on Channel 4. That was a nice job with regular hours, and I did it for 18 months.
But I got shunted off that, and because I didn't want to go back to the newsdesk and work crazy hours, I came back to the BBC to present a weekly select committee programme called Scrutiny. I did that for two years, and then they said I could do term-time work as a political correspondent, which is brilliant for a working mother. The other women with children are extremely annoyed by it, but I feel I'm pioneering, and that if I spread it around enough the Beeb is going to have to do it for other people.
Then, this year, when they decided to do an extra election report at the end of the Nine O'Clock News, the editor asked me if I wanted to do it because I was just about the only person not allocated on the general election front. I don't particularly enjoy all the showing-off that goes on at the press conferences, but it's a lot of fun.
I didn't consciously aim to be a face on television. I wanted to be a radio person because I thought I'd be able to use long words on the radio. The point is that women of my generation are notoriously bad at realising what's in their own best interests; women nowadays are so much more aware of possibilities, and of how to shape their lives.
I suppose it finally dawned on me that if you're going to be able to do what you want to do, you need to get to a position where you can ask to do what you want to do. Television is the route to power, because that's where the money and the power are; and also, television is a way of communicating with the most people. I think that in order to succeed in BBC terms, you really have to succeed in television.
Interview by Scott HughesReuse content