'She was polite, self-deprecating and so much sharper than most journalists'

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The Independent Online

I was seconded as holiday relief to the production team of The Tube from work on local current affairs shows - so I felt desperately inadequate at the prospect of being around the lethally hip researchers and the fearless reputations of the presenters, Jools Holland and Paula Yates.

I was seconded as holiday relief to the production team of The Tube from work on local current affairs shows - so I felt desperately inadequate at the prospect of being around the lethally hip researchers and the fearless reputations of the presenters, Jools Holland and Paula Yates.

This fear was confirmed at my first production meeting, where Paula was to be found dressed in one long length of beautifully arranged muslin, lying along the meeting table. She had bleached white hair, wore crooked pink national health service specs - and kept whacking Jools with her rolled- up running order as he eulogised about soul singers. "Stop showing off and get on with it, mister bleeding know it all, so we can get to the canteen - I'm starving."

I was amazed to discover a quite different Paula a few hours later - constantly self-deprecating, incredibly polite and down to earth, but full of energy and dying to be seen to be doing a good job. On the train home to London after the show I was sitting alone at the far end of the carriage away from Jools, Paula and some of the people who had appeared that night, as befitted my station as the most junior researcher.

Paula came to get me and insisted I join them, then insisted that Jools put me up for the night after it became clear I was going to miss my connecting train south, and then insisted that I stay with her and Bob Geldof the following night rather than stay in a hotel.

Paula had been hired to deliver a combination of glamour, energy and journalistic edge. On the first live programme she had already asked Sting several questions not likely to be put to him on Top of the Pops, including "so is it true what I hear - that your favourite position is doggy style on the kitchen table?"

The truth was that she was sharper, faster and a better writer than most current affairs journalists, extremely well-read; and had an ability to digest huge amounts of information at lightning speed. She was hugely knowledgeable - and passionate - about pop music, and led The Tube to pick up several of its exclusives.

Her wickedness knew few boundaries. Any pompous celebrity or executive would be greeted loudly in a public place or crowded meeting with something along the lines of "Hello big boy! How's your dick?"

She often said her greatest failing was her "pathological loathing of journalists", and she would regularly collapse and break down after her appearances in the tabloids. Yet Paula herself had the rare ability to build people's self esteem, rather than reduce it. She made people feel special, cared for and gave them a huge sunburst of confidence.

* John Cummins was Channel 4's commissioning editor for youth between 1984 and 1987. He is now chief executive of Hydra.

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