My Mentor: Cathy Newman On Alice Rawsthorn

'She taught me to go straight to the top to make contacts. call the minister'

With her Prada shoes and dazzling skirts, Alice made an immediate impression on me when, at 23, I joined the Financial Times. I was media correspondent, and sat in between Alice, who covered the creative industries, and John Gapper, the media editor. She always had freshly cut flowers on her desk and everything was filed immaculately.

She was extremely articulate and answered the phone like a BBC continuity announcer from the Fifties. In an industry that was still male-dominated, here was a polished, charismatic, high-profile woman: an ideal role model for someone at the start of her journalistic career.

Alice was great at giving advice. She was especially good at knowing how to handle PRs who phoned up screaming about this or that splash that contained some uncomfortable home truths. She told me that, so long as I was confident of the facts, and believed I had been fair, I should hold my ground, be polite and not give an inch. Another thing I learnt from her was to go straight to the top to make contacts. Call the chief executive or the chairman, the cabinet minister or the permanent secretary. She had a really impressive array of sources.

Alice really knew how to fit into a male-dominated environment, and she showed me how to do that. One very hot day I came in with a little vest top on under my suit and took my jacket off. Alice took me aside and said I shouldn't be wearing my décolletage in the newsroom. I was pretty cross at the time, but it was a typical example of her giving me shrewd advice. She made me realise that you have to look the part in the media, and women are judged more harshly than men.

Cathy Newman is the political correspondent of Channel 4 News. Alice Rawsthorn is a former director of the Design Museum and is a columnist for the International Herald Tribune

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