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Sarah Brown: 'I should have spoken up about the things said about Gordon'

Power is not what attracted me to Gordon Having power has to be about the contribution a person can make. It was how he has been able to take the thing that he is good at and use it to serve, through political life. As Martin Luther King said: "Everybody can be great... because everybody can serve."

The big black door of number 10 is an iconic image of the heart of government but I've always felt a building like that is there to serve people, so an important part of my role was to open that door as often as possible, to have people from all over Britain come to see it; it's why I hosted as many charity events as I did. But my strongest role as wife of the prime minister was to make sure our family operated as a normal one, despite living in unusual circumstances.

I should have spoken up about the things said about Gordon I felt particularly annoyed when something was published that was very personal or inaccurate; it didn't represent the person I was married to. At the time I thought that in those circumstances you just have to take what is thrown at you, but in hindsight, even if it didn't change anything, it would have been worth doing, just to know I'd said more.

I never knew who I'd bump into when I was living above Number 10. There'd be times when I'd come out of our private flat, walk along the corridor to my office and bump into Gordon, who'd say, "I'd like to introduce you to Sir Elton John." Once I was called down to meet George Clooney and I turned up in a tatty cardigan; the corridors were well lined that day, but by far the busiest was when Cheryl Cole came for Comic Relief. Suddenly everyone was on hand, and an expert in malaria.

It's tough getting household items delivered to number 10 Most things we ordered were sent to a different address, but with food it has to come to where you live. When I first tried to set up a Tesco supermarket account, they kept not arriving, and when I looked into why, I discovered they'd kept cancelling my orders as they thought it was a prank.

Gordon's very thoughtful on the small things He can be engaged in something very powerful, intellectual and absorbing but will have time to call a friend who he knows needs cheering up, or sit and work on homework with our boys; helping on the maths homework for the kids is a slam-dunk thing for him.

Employers need to look at how they are bringing women into the workforce and the journey they have as they rise up through the ranks; companies need to consider how they work with women when choices are made about starting a family so that she, her family and her workplace all benefit.

Positives can come out of tragedy I met the First Lady of Sierra Leone, Sia Koroma, after I'd taken part in a maternal mortality campaign [Sarah's newborn daughter, Jennifer, died of complications in 2001]. She also took that course after we'd talked – Sierra Leone has one of the worst maternity survival rates in the world – and since then she has helped make huge strides for maternal and child healthcare there.

I found out the limits of how much I can take on When we were in Downing Street, I really pushed myself, and through a combination of looking after young children, jet lag and helping organise a lot of things Gordon and I were doing – sometimes three engagements in an evening – I would be completely kiboshed by the tiredness. Have I learnt my lesson? I still take on one more thing than I can manage.

Sarah Brown is a charity campaigner, writer and the wife of the former prime minister, Gordon Brown. Her book, 'Behind the Black Door' (£18.99, Ebury) is out now