Rowan Pelling: Look at the size of his pay packet

Nothing inspires so much glee - or twisted bitterness - as somebody else's salary details

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If there's anything in life as squalidly pleasurable as knowing someone's secret sexual kinks, it's being privy to their salary. Both are the kinds of information that you should rightly have to prize out of another human being with a power drill to their molars. In fact, I would gladly reveal my age (38), what I voted last (Lib Dem), my most shameful and inexplicable crush (Tom Cruise) and the strangest thing I've done in a black cab (walked on the cabbie) - all this before I would tell you exactly how much I earned.

This partly stems from that deeply rooted British notion that any conversation about cash is dirty and nasty, like talking about your stools. But it also has a lot to do with the fact that when you reveal the secrets of your salary you're in a lose/lose situation. The person who is privy to such information will think one of two things: it's an outrage you're paid that kind of sum for such piss-poor execution of a task any ee'jit could do; or, just as likely, and far more insultingly, it's incredible a so-called adult can survive on such a paltry sum, poor darling.

There is nothing quite as insufferable as the barely suppressed glee that suffuses an acquaintance as they realise that they earn four times more than you do. The only way to wipe that smug look off their face is to tell them that a colleague of theirs is earning four times more than they are - ha ha ha. I bet you most people on today's Sunday Times "rich list" can't enjoy their pointless wealth for being burnt up with envy at the knowledge some other tycoon earns considerably more than they do.

It's no wonder that many people, myself included, are experiencing a well nigh intolerable amount of pain and pleasure from the almost daily revelations about how much various celebs on the BBC's pay-roll are paid. "Stop it!" I want to gasp from my chaise longue, "Your indiscretions are killing me." However galling it is to learn how much Jonathan Ross earns, it's equally delicious to find out that Chris Evans and Chris Moyles have to work five times harder for their money.

And how many corporate fat cats must be revelling in schadenfreude at learning that their self-anointed scourge, Jeremy Paxman, is paid a million pounds for around three days work a week on two little-watched shows on BBC2 - twice as much as the BBC director general Mark Thompson earns a year. Which begs the question: is Paxo's packet bigger than Humphrys'? And who has the bigger balls? The British public deserves transparency in this matter.

The fact that no one thinks it worth revealing Martha Kearney's salary speaks volumes. Research and experience tells us that women find it far harder to ask for pay rises. This is mainly attributed to the fact that women know job satisfaction has little to do with macho posturing about the size of your wodge. But if things are to improve we need to have this soft, yielding, kittenish crap beaten out of us.

I'm indebted to the doyenne of Fleet Street's interviewers, Lynn Barber, for the verbal duffing-up she gave me eight years ago. At the time I was a co-director of the Erotic Print Society, overseeing the company's PR campaign and had transformed the Society's newsletter into a magazine selling 25,000 copies and had just commissioned and edited a book that became a Christmas sell-out. For this I was paid rather less than your average receptionist.

"So," said Barber, "Have those men raised your pay and given you those shares yet?" "Er, no." I replied, " but they did give me this great opportunity, and I'm lucky I enjoy my work so much." Barber blew a gasket: "No man would talk like that - he'd say, 'Give me those effing shares and a pay rise or I quit tomorrow'."

The above anecdote should sound a cautionary note to any aspirational young person with an eye on the mega-deals dolled out to Ross and Paxman. Most people working in the media (and other supposedly glam professions, such as publishing and PR) earn peanuts. I have known brilliant youngsters paid eight grand to slave seven days a week on small mags (often my own) and crap TV programmes. It took me 12 years before I earned enough to apply for a mortgage. Do I have a pension? You're jokin'. Neither does my husband and he's spent over 30 years working in magazine and book publishing, and he's one of the most financially prudent people I know.

Our combined inability to earn huge wads of cash leaves us in perpetual astonishment at the ease with which other people manage it. We pretend that we're just not very materialistic, but on the comfort of our shabby sofa late at night we're as bitter, twisted and jealous as anyone else supposedly possessed of a social conscience who realises the champagne revolution has forged ahead without them. Vast mortgages, hungry babies and the sudden certain knowledge that you will never be called upon to make tough decisions about the morality of second homes can suddenly make you feel sour. My husband, whose anger in this area seems to be in direct proportion to his one-time great commitment to socialism, told me with incredulity that the man who cuts his hair was thinking of buying a second-hand Audi for £19,000. We both shook our heads in amazement.

Even our sainted GP is no longer immune from our suspicion and envy: "How much do you think he earns?" asked the husband, "£90,000?" "Oh, much more than that I'd say," I replied, "£120k at least and drives a top of range Land Rover Discovery." "What? No way!" exploded the husband in a lava of self-righteous indignation at my invented sum and fictional vehicle. At such moments I try and remind him that if there's one job on the planet that's redundant and overpaid at any price, it's surely that of newspaper columnist.

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