Journalism is a fantastic job – but unless you’re Emily Maitlis or Natasha Kaplinsky the one thing it isn’t is glamorous. One minute you’re reporting a grim murder trial at the Old Bailey, the next you’re up to your knees in mud writing about an eccentric recluse living on a Thames houseboat.
When I worked in hard news I’d arrive in the news room at 7am in the full knowledge that by the end of the day I could be anywhere – Paris, New York, Scunthorpe, you name it.
It’s hardly surprising that there are barely any women news reporters with young children working on national newspapers. I’d leave home at the crack of dawn and was often on the tube to Euston or Heathrow by 8am. My husband still quotes the time I left a note on the kitchen table saying “gone to Nairobi. Not sure when I’ll be back.” A British doctor had set out to climb Mount Kenya, the second highest mountain in Africa, six months earlier and had vanished into thin air. My news editor decided I was the person to find him – a tall order considering the police had totally failed in their attempt and I don’t like heights. Not surprisingly, I returned home a complete and utter failure ten days later.
Now I’m a freelance writer, journalism is still full of surprises. Last week I had to visit a prep school in the wilds of Northamptonshire for a story. I spent the morning chatting to the head, was shown round by two delightful 13-year-olds who proudly showed me the contents of every cupboard and then got invited to stay for lunch. I haven’t had a school dinner in nearly 30 years so, curious to see what they’re like post Jamie Oliver, I agreed.
As I walked in, the head directed me to the end of a Hogwarts-style table. Grace was said and we all sat down. But as I gazed along the table everyone fell silent. I suddenly noticed lots of expectant faces staring back at me. And then I realised what they were waiting for. Since I was at the head of the table, it was my role to be the dinner lady and dish up the roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and cabbage. As I said before, you don’t go into journalism for the glamour…