My Mentor: Giles Hattersley on Eleanor Mills

'One really good lesson I learnt from her was to never, ever give up on a story'

I started at The Sunday Times the Monday morning after finishing my MA in fashion journalism. I had an internship on the Style magazine and then a researcher's job came up on the News Review, which was edited by Eleanor Mills. From being cocooned in the only part of the ST that actually smells like flowers, I found myself tossed in the deep end, sitting at the desk closest to the editor's office. It was a complete change of pace for me but I had an immediate connection with Eleanor. She is a fireball of ideas and super-confident – tougher than a cheap steak but deceptively wrapped up in soft cashmere tops. I was the only guy on the desk and thought it might be all chatting and slices of cake in the afternoon. In fact, they were all incredibly tough. Eleanor has this amazing ability to multi-task and, at any given moment, will be reading The New Republic and Grazia simultaneously, while on the phone commissioning Germaine Greer and having a nanny crisis at home, yet it all seemed so effortless. We had a really strong working relationship – we found the same things amusing and were always drawn to the same stories. She commissioned me to write something in my first week, when all I'd done before was photocopying. Then she sent me off to interview John Peel, and later down to Newquay to do an exposé of "Booze Britain". Despite all the vomit and screaming, it was great, particularly as she put it on the front of the News Review. She taught me a lot about being a boss. She uses a clever balance of "carrot and stick", which I think is crucial. One good lesson I learnt from her was to never, ever give up on a story; if you want to interview someone and they keep saying "no" you just have to keep asking until they say "yes". It felt very strange to leave Eleanor after three years because The Sunday Times was the only place I'd ever worked. Like a lot of first bosses, she was like a work parent to me, although I'm sure she wouldn't appreciate me getting mushy about it, though.

Giles Hattersley is the editor of Arena.

Eleanor Mills edits The Sunday Times News Review.

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