I think, to start off with, my greatest mistake was not speaking to Salman Rushdie. It was around the time that The Satanic Verses had just been published, and I was a trainee journalist. Rushdie was doing a reading at the ICA, and I went along with my boyfriend who was trying to break into fashion photography. It was all very funky and trendy, and the atmosphere was quite exciting because that evening there had been protest bonfires in Bradford, and it was all heating up.
When the reading was over, my boyfriend and I were hanging out at the very cool bar, obligatory Beck's in hand, next to Rushdie. My boyfriend whispered to me that we should get an interview with him and sell it. I wasn't sure: in truth, I was a bit embarrassed and shy, as well as the fact that it was Saturday night, and I'd had a drink – all that kind of thing.
My boyfriend, thinking that I was pretty lame, went over and took the photo anyway. He rushed the picture to The Guardian, and the next morning it was splashed all over the front page. He then quickly went on to become the front man for The Daily Telegraph in Beirut, while I had to write about cats and washing machines, and break into journalism the slow way.
That night has haunted me ever since, but through it I learnt two primary rules about journalism. The first is that even when you're at a party, drink (or three) in hand, you're still working. It may sound like a cliché, but the best stories seem to come when you're out and about. The second rule is that you always have to be brave, and you just can't afford to be shy.
I've held the second rule to my heart, and although it has been useful, it has led to quite a few Sally Phillips-in-Rescue Me moments, which seemed like big mistakes at the time. Once, for instance, I asked Damien Hirst what kind of a boyfriend he would make. He took down his trousers and showed me his penis. Of course, I went bright red: it really rattled me and I was terribly upset. But in the end, it turned into magical copy. Another time, when I was interviewing a certain chef (who shall remain nameless), he pressed my hand into his groin and asked me if I wanted to go upstairs. Again, at the time I was dreadfully embarrassed, but with hindsight you can always write about it.
I think you can make more mistakes if you want to be liked by your interviewees. One time, I was interviewing Hugh Grant and he was so devastatingly charming that I was desperate for him to like me. That's a terrible frame of mind to start off an interview with anyway, but I wanted him to like me so much that when he offered me a cigarette I said yes, even though I don't smoke. I didn't really know what to do with it In the end, I managed to get through it all right, but I did feel a bit like a teenage girl desperately trying to impress her friends.Reuse content