"Before I went to university I was a very good little convent girl, an academic, hard-working girl with a sense of fun, but the priority was my exams. Suddenly I was in the big bad world of Warwick University, which was wild, the whole population was pretty crazy - you have to remember this was 1968. And here I ended up with Germaine as one of my lecturers.
I was doing French and European literature, and found her utterly terrifying. She was tall and abrasive and beautiful. She was so daunting, so confident; I was wary of her. We'd all be on edge as she would just turn in the middle of the lecture and ask you a question, without warning. But she was all over the papers as it was the time of The Female Eunuch , which was a shocking challenge to conventions; hers wasn't a lecture you would miss.
She was the woman who really taught me how to be free-thinking and strong and independent. She doesn't suffer fools gladly and has little room for small talk. I think she helped give me backbone to stand up for myself and my beliefs; if any bosses are treating me badly, not to shrink back but to go and bloody question it.
When I went to Warwick, not only did I learn to let my hair down and party in a major way (though I never went to any of her parties), I learnt to think and to question, and it is Germaine who taught me that. When we discussed one of my essays, she said: 'Look, during the next few years, you are going to study a lot of books, but it's just our way of making you think.' I have never forgotten that, nor her rigorous but fair style of criticism.
My job as a journalist, and as a royal correspondent, has to be about questioning things. For example: 'we do it like this because it's traditional, because it's been done this way before' is just bollocks. Why not change it? I've said this to the palace before - one example is when the flag didn't fly over Buckingham Palace when Diana died.
The other person who comes close to being my mentor is Max Cuff, at the Richmond Herald , the first paper I worked on, who taught me how to turn university prose into 'fucking Anglo-Saxon'. But Germaine stands out above all the others - she was sexy, she was demanding, she was dangerous - you never knew what was going to happen next with her. She gave the impression that you couldn't understand D H Lawrence without sexual experience. I've since met her many times, and even interviewed her this year at the Chelsea Flower Show. She has no memory of me whatsoever."Reuse content