My Mentor: Patience Wheatcroft On Sir Patrick Sergeant

'Once a year he would write from Ascot and wear a top hat in his byline picture'

I had been working on a property paper and I knew I didn't want to be a foot-in-the-door-sorry-to-hear-your-child-has-died type of journalist. I wrote to Patrick, we had a cup of Earl Grey and he said: "You can come in on a six month trial", so I did.

It would have been 1976 and I was still quite little - 24 - but he was giving me a fantastic opportunity and he taught me a lot. He sent me off to meet people he knew and offered lots of helpful hints.

I worked hard on everything because what one didn't want was for Patrick to be disappointed in anything. He made this clear and he had people working hard for him.

The fact that he could write about business in an entertaining and chatty way was something I appreciated and learnt from, and the fact that he could talk to anybody in business on almost an equal footing was quite new in journalism.

He had a great sense of humour and he was very classy. I remember one day he said: "My dear, Private Eye has described me as an ageing matinée idol. Is this good or is it not?" And it was quite clear that he knew it was very good.

He also said that his doctor had recommended that he couldn't drink anything other than champagne or the very best red wine - which he took seriously.

I thought the Mail was a great place to be, though at that stage I don't think I ever thought that I should be a city editor. But he was a director of the paper and also made a huge amount of money because he launched Euromoney: he was a good example of why business journalism was a good career.

Patience Wheatcroft is The Times' business editor

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