To anyone who has dreamed of becoming a journalist, the thrill of walking into a national newspaper office never goes away. My desk is in the glass-clad offices of the Sunday Times, next to the Shard; the outside ‘walls’ are all windows and the views from the ninth floor are spectacular. When I first came here, as an intern, I was too scared to admire anything. Now I’m back, this time on the news review section and in charge of the interns, which entertains me no end. Many are from Oxbridge, and all are super-smart. I try to sound authoritative, hoping my age — I’m 48 — will help me do so. But there’s little point in my pretending to have been doing this for years, since often they’ve googled me before they arrive.
They’ve found out that this time last year I was a stay-at-home mother of three. I applied for a Spectator internship, taken by the no-CV policy: age and background were not a factor. My children are growing up; I felt I was young enough to try a new career and not old enough to give up on dreams. When I got the placement, everything changed. My story seemed to capture interest: four BBC interviews, and a feature in the Sunday Times where I was interviewed by a young journalist called Leaf Arbuthnot. I’m now doing her job, while she has moved to the magazine. I read the papers, look at books, commission, edit, write. And no, I can’t believe it either.
Going from being a full-time mum to a full-time journalist has turned life at home upside down. My husband Nick and I have reversed roles: I wake him at 7.30 a.m. with tea and the Today programme before catching my train into town. He drops our nine-year-old at school, walks our cockapoo and makes dinner. As he is self-employed and works locally, it suits us both. Some older ladies at church seem to see him as some sort of saint, but it just seems fair enough to me. As Bill said of Hillary Clinton: ‘It’s her turn.’ It wasn’t, as it turned out; but then I’m not trying to be leader of the free world. Just to have the career I’d long thought I couldn’t have.
I’d love to pretend it’s all happy families, but the transition is bumpy and the house is descending into chaos. My teenage boys are expected to unload the dishwasher and — shock! horror! — locate their own shoes. Their bedroom floors are disappearing beneath a rising tide of clothes. I missed a parents’ evening for the first time. There have been major meltdowns. Mostly mine.
It seems that the House of Commons takes a vote on ending press freedom every other month, with another one last Wednesday. I suspect this is not because the press is so strong, but weak: print circulations are plunging and jobs vanishing. You’d be surprised how often aspiring journalists are advised by those in the industry to flee, to get out while we still can. But I’m running in the other direction. Whatever your view on Brexit and Trump, they underline the case for news and comment worth paying for. Amid all the fury, journalism matters, perhaps more than ever. The idea of ‘speaking truth to power’ sounds pompous but it’s vital. Call me idealistic or naive, but I want to be part of that.
Tomorrow I’ll meet my Women In Journalism (WIJ) mentor for the first time. It’s a fantastic organisation and many of their female journalists give their time to support those (like me) just starting out. I was told at a very early stage that journalism is a rollercoaster full of ups and downs. Learning to write is part of it, but so is learning to deal with rejection. Getting used to tears, unanswered emails — all in pursuit of a breakthrough. Or just a break. I met the Duchess of Cornwall at a WIJ event at The Ned in the City but my biggest thrill was celebrating women’s right to vote on the terrace at Westminster. The Sunday Times’s deputy political editor Caroline Wheeler very kindly got me in and introduced me to Laura Kuenssberg, who said straight away ‘You’re the Spectator intern!’And if you’re reading this, you too could be a Spectator intern — applications for its 2018 scheme are open now. No CVs are asked for: they don’t care who you know, or what school or university you went to.