My appointment in June 1999 caused great anxiety among the chattering classes – I can't imagine why. Kelvin MacKenzie said I couldn't edit a bus ticket, exactly the kind of pathetic putdown I'd expect from his track record on The Sun. I was hardly a newcomer: having started my journalistic career as a columnist on the Mail in 1969, I'd spent 10 years as a TV executive at the BBC, running 35 series with a multimillion-pound budget. I'd regularly presented political programmes as well as running live, news-based output, but reading critics such as Roy Greenslade, you'd think that the Indy's bosses had lost their marbles, and handed the paper to an airhead who'd be putting frocks and froth on the front page.
I've always been passionate about the countryside, and lived in North Yorkshire for 30 years. My other big love affair has been with the arts – having trained as an architect, I firmly believe they enrich our lives in so many ways. During my time as editor we increased our coverage in both these areas, with columnists such as Will Self, Jonathan Meades, Jo Brand and Salman Rushdie. We covered rural affairs more widely than before, campaigning for Ministry of Defence land to be opened up for the public to enjoy in our "Forbidden Britain" campaign, and highlighting the secretive way the Government was trying to introduce controversial GM foods into the UK, predicting they would have a detrimental effect on the landscape as well as our health.
Our coverage of GM issues won environment editor Geoffrey Lean many awards and led to wider press coverage of green issues as well as anticipating the popularity of organic food. The countryside also had its share of disasters during my time at the IoS – widespread flooding caused immense distress in November 2000, and was followed by the foot-and-mouth outbreak in March 2001, with shocking images of burning pyres of cattle.
Readers responded strongly to our "Passenger Power" campaign, and filled the pages with their horror stories at the hands of public-transport operators. The Paddington rail crash in October 1999 only underlined the need for reform.
I'm proud of introducing the Pink List in August 2000 – the first time a national newspaper had highlighted the positive contribution gay men and women make in so many aspects of life.
I also enjoyed interviewing the Prime Minister in September 2000, immediately after the fuel crisis, which saw the country grind to a halt as lorry drivers and farmers protested at the rising cost of petrol. In spite of the dent in his popularity, Blair seemed eager to talk on a wide range of subjects, but he couldn't resist showing me new baby Leo, who was asleep on the duvet on their bed.
Despite foot and mouth and the fuel protests, the Labour Government was returned by a landslide in June 2001, and I decided to step down as editor. The newspaper had taken over my life for two years, and I'd thoroughly enjoyed it, and the circulation had even risen, so sod the critics.
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