After school I studied English Literature at Lincoln College, Oxford and from there joined The Times’ graduate trainee scheme as a news reporter, cutting my teeth on everything from court cases to plane hijacks, pretty much in a constant state of terror that I would somehow be ‘found out’. After four years on the paper I moved to the Daily Express where I worked as a feature writer and columnist, finally ending up on the Daily Mail where I was a staff feature writer before I went freelance eight years ago. I now write on a freelance basis for the Mail as well as a number of magazines from Grazia and the Radio Times to Marie Claire and Sunday Times Style, covering everything from celebrity interviews to human interest stories. It’s been a varied career: during my twenty years as a journalist I’ve done everything from joining a pretend mission to Mars in the Utah desert to flying to Australia in pursuit of a known conman connected to Tony and Cherie Blair.
What is your connection to Bolton School? Were any other members of your family here?
My cousin Sarah Rea was at the school couple of years above me (maybe three come to think of it) but we were both the first generation in our family to come here. I did however live a stone’s throw away as I was born and raised on Shrewsbury Road so I didn’t have much of a commute, unlike some of my friends!
What is your fondest Bolton School memory?
Oh my goodness there are too many to mention! So many highlights: the swish of skirts as everyone got up from the wicker chairs in assembly when the head girl came in, and Toccata and Fugue on the Organ. Three Kings from Persian Lands afar at the Carol concert.. The Christmas post, hosted by the Lower Fifth – I remember the frenzied sense of competition when my form did it although tragically I can’t remember our theme. On a personal level as I was such a geek I totally loved the concept of the Excellent Book (is that still going?!) which you got to sign in the Headmistress’ study if you got four excellents. I also loved Sixth Form and the antics in the Common Room: wheelie bin races and human pyramids. It was also a massive privilege to be made Head Girl despite the terror of speech day looming over the first few weeks.
Did any member of teaching staff particularly inspire you while you were at school?
Again it’s hard to pick them out as they were all special in their own way – one of the amazing things about Bolton School during my time there was that all the teachers, different as they were, had a way of engaging you in their subject so that you couldn’t help but be enthused even if you weren’t very good at it (I’m thinking of you Miss Dickinson – maths was never my strong suit but you helped me get that O Level!). As I leant towards English from an early age I was particularly inspired by both Mrs Todd and Mrs Georghiou, who really helped me open my eyes to literature and poetry and who also both went above and beyond to encourage me on my way. Special mention must also go to the late Mme Hutchings, who made French such fun, despite being consistently exasperated by the endless chatter between me and my desk mate Debbie Done ( I can still hear her saying ‘Que vous etes penible’).
What do you feel your experience at Bolton School has given to you personally?
Two very specific things: an amazing network of fantastic friends, and the sense that if you put your mind to it you could achieve anything – Bolton School tried to instil confidence in the girls there, never an easy feat in adolescent girls. More than anything though what stands out for me is the unique sense of community the school fostered – my closest friends today are still the ones I made there thirty years ago. Through social media even more of us are now connected now and there is an enormous sense of goodwill between us Old Girls. It’s really special.
What is the best career advice you can give to Bolton School pupils today?
This is good life advice not just career advice (and it is much easier to advise than to follow!) but try not to worry too much about what other people think. Follow your heart – it will always serve you well. And be nice to people. This is also a good life rule, but it helps professionally too. I don’t subscribe to the notion that you need to be ruthless to achieve in business (or indeed achieve anything). And frankly, who wants to be the hard-nosed badass at the party?
What do you think about Bolton School’s 100 Campaign aim to re-establish genuine open access through its Bursary Fund?
I think it’s a wonderful idea. It’s so important that people who wouldn’t have access to the kind of fantastic education Bolton School can provide are given a chance to study there. It’s fashionable to knock these kinds of schemes but I think schools like Bolton School have a duty to the community and so it’s enormously encouraging to hear of the 100 Campaign’s aims.