Women join the ranks of Britain's highest earners

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Women are now among the highest earners in the country. From fashion and finance to courtrooms and catering, they excel in every area. Kate Watson-Smyth discovers just who is in the money.

It has been a long and hard-fought battle, but at last huge numbers of women in Britain are not only earning as much as men, many of them are taking home a great deal more.

At the end of the twentieth century, women now work in every area and excel in many of them. They manage to combine high-flying careers with homes and families and yet keep their feet firmly on the ground.

Virginia de Palco, co-founder and managing director of Pasta Reale, who is said to be worth around pounds 20m, is not too proud to roll up her sleeves and put in a full day's work at the factory helping to load the lorries.

She left school at the age of 11 and says: "Deep down I am still a peasant. I feed my family on pasta to save money."

But a list of high-earners, compiled by the magazine Harpers & Queen, includes women who it cites as prime examples of female excellence within their respective fields. They are not necessarily the highest earners overall.

Despite that, the ubiquitous Spice Girls are on the list with their annual salaries of around pounds 4m each. So too are the supermodels Kate Moss, who makes pounds 3m, and Naomi Campbell who earns pounds 1.5m.

But beating them all by some considerable distance is the writer Barbara Taylor Bradford who makes a cool pounds 11.6m a year. She currently sells around eight million copies of her books annually.

Dame Barbara Cartland, the self-styled queen of romantic fiction, has her finger firmly on the commercial pulse of her company Cartland Productions. At 96, she is earning pounds 650,000 a year as her books cause hearts to beat faster in Russia, the Balkan States and in South America, where publishers, according to her agent, cannot keep up with demand.

But it is not just in traditionally feminine careers of fashion, cooking and writing romantic fiction that women are succeeding. They are also commanding respect in the world of business and finance.

Carole Galley, co-chairman of Merrill Lynch Mercury Asset Management, earns pounds 6m a year (last year's basic salary - pre-merger with Merrill Lynch- pounds 210,000, the rest was made up of bonuses and dividends.) She also scooped a one-off payment of pounds 14m when the merger took place.

A former company librarian, Ms Galley is known as the "Ice Maiden" and has won a lot of respect from the City grandees for her professionalism, clear thinking and objective analysis.

Nicola Foulston, the chief executive of Brands Hatch, earns pounds 207,000 a year.

She inherited Brands Hatch from her father when she was a 19-year-old student at London University. Ten years on she has multiplied turnover from pounds 750,000 to more than pounds 14m. And even though right-wing politics are currently deeply unfashionable, Baroness Thatcher can still command around pounds 40,000 for one lecture, or pounds 5 a word.

She earns pounds 600,000 from giving 15 talks a year, and makes up the shortfall from the sales of 500,000 copies of her two autobiographies.

Other women mentioned on the list include the actress Jane Seymour who earns pounds 3.5m courtesy of her made-for-TV series Doctor Quinn Medicine Woman and Sarah, Duchess of York, who despite her constant financial problems, makes around pounds 3.1m annually.

Top Five in the money

1. Barbara Taylor Bradford, writer, earns approximately pounds 11.6m a year.

2. Angela Lansbury, the actress best known for her role in Murder She Wrote, earns around pounds 7.5m a year.

3. Carole Galley, co-chairman of Merrill Lynch Mercury Asset Management, earns around pounds 6m annually by the time bonuses and dividends have been added.

4. Linda Jacobs, director of Raine's Dairy and Basildon Dairy Foods, earns around pounds 5.09m a year (pounds 1m in salary and the balance in share dividends).

5. Ann Gloag, joint owner and managing director of Stagecoach bus and train company, earns pounds 5.08m per annum.