The red-top redhead who became the first lady of Fleet Street

Editor of The Sun promoted to run all Rupert Murdoch's British newspapers

Twenty years ago she joined the News of the World as a lowly researcher. Last night, Rebekah Wade celebrated becoming one of the most powerful women in British business and Rupert Murdoch's representative on Fleet Street.

Ms Wade, 41, was yesterday promoted from editor of The Sun to chief executive of Murdoch's British print empire, News International. She will preside over five titles: The Sun, the News of the World, The Times, the Sunday Times and London freesheet thelondonpaper.

The Sorbonne-educated journalist and the Australian proprietor, 78, finalised the deal when he arrived in London last week. Ms Wade will answer to Murdoch's son, James, who has been promoted to executive chairman of the business.

She will clear her editor's desk formally in September, by which time Murdoch plans to name a replacement. The front-runner is her deputy Dominic Mohan, who has a strong celebrity and features pedigree and a cheeky sense of humour, although he will face a fierce contest, perhaps against Daily Mirror editor Richard Wallace. "If it was a question of just signing off the paperwork, it would have been announced," said a source.

Ms Wade, an experienced operator with a phosphorescent ambition and a a glittering social network encompassing business, politics and showbusiness, has long coveted the position. She has been on overseas business trips with James Murdoch and has been finessing her business skills.

Rupert Murdoch described her as "a great campaigning editor who has worked her way up through the company with an energy and enthusiasm that reflects true passion for newspapers and an understanding of the crucial contribution that independent journalism makes to society".

He added: "I'm thrilled that Rebekah's energetic leadership will be felt even more widely in the company."

Ms Wade, the first female editor of The Sun and a founding member of Women in Journalism, has been at the helm for six-and-a-half years, during which time she cemented the newspaper's position as Britain's largest-selling daily, although circulation recently dipped below three million.

Her time editing the News of the World was noted for the paper's "Sarah's Law" campaign, which demanded the the right to know if convicted paedophiles were living nearby.

Ms Wade married the old Etonian writer and horse trainer Charlie Brooks earlier this month in a lakeside ceremony. They met at the home of Sun columnist Jeremy Clarkson. A recent feature about the couple in the magazine Tatler spoke of dinners with the likes of Bono, the Murdoch clan, public-relations guru Matthew Freud, various viscounts and the Prime Minister and his wife.

Staff will not miss her splenetic emails, which have entered Fleet Street legend. "How many of you woke up this morning, read the Daily Mirror and tendered your resignation?" began one such missive to reporters, after the paper was scooped by its man rival.

Her appointment as chief executive will lead to months of speculation about the game of musical chairs Murdoch has begun in the upper reaches of the company. John Witherow, the editor of the Sunday Times, is said to have been interested in the job of chief executive at one stage, but crossed swords with management over a price rise to £2 in 2006.

James Murdoch will be an "active executive chairman" and still based in Wapping.

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