This job has meant a real mindset change for me. It’s a daily learning curve, and every day is different. I recently moved to live in London during the week [her family home is in Hitchin in Hertfordshire] so I can be nearer the office [on the South Bank]. It’s a half hour walk along the River Thames or 20 minutes by bus.
My husband, Chris, and I divide our time between the two homes. Chris owns two companies – a building company and a property company and we do miss one another when he’s in Hertfordshire with work commitments of his own. He’s really supportive and, when he can, comes down to London so we can share the travelling. I’m not really a morning person but ‘needs must’ so I’m up at 6.15am if I’m travelling into the office from Hitchin. If I’m in London, I have a much more leisurely start. It’s a 7am alarm call and the journey from our home near Tower Bridge is so easy.
There’s a lot of travelling around the country – I’m out of the office at least one day a week – and I take the train so I can use that time to work, often preparing presentations or paperwork. Besides, it’s less stressful than driving. I’ve always got the BlackBerry on by 8am. I have had to become quite disciplined not to keep it on all the time. Emails come in all sorts of times. When Parliament is sitting – and if Barry [Cockcroft] is not about – I might have to deal with
Parliamentary Questions or media queries in the evenings.
“My great release is our boat… That’s what recharges the batteries”
In the first week of the job, my BlackBerry went off at 9.30pm and my husband and I just looked at it to begin with, but then reality kicked in and I got on with the job.
I have a separate portfolio but I do step in for Barry. I tend to work late and am better at dealing with paperwork a bit later in the day – I’m more productive then. My PA, Sonia, is wonderful. I’ve never had one like this before.
She has access to my emails – I get loads – and between us, we keep it under control. I inherited her from Tony [Jenner, previous deputy CDO] and it’s been great having someone so efficient and with extensive corporate knowledge. She gives me those vital background details.
My days are very variable. They can go from having B2B meetings all day to some days just one or two short interviews and reports/papers to write. My last job was similar in many ways. I was covering four PCTs [as the consultant in dental public health for Bedfordshire, Luton and Hertfordshire PCTs] so that was pretty demanding. But I have to say this has been a big life change.
There was a very rigorous appointment process for the role which included a full-day senior civil service assessment, then a formal interview with a presentation. I don’t see it as automatically high profile, it will be what I make it, but it’s down to me to fulfil the expectations people have. I have very fresh knowledge of working at a local level with PCTs over the new contract so I have that local sensitivity that I can combine nicely with my national role. It’s a good balance. Clearly, there is some evening work – some people prefer to meet in the evenings, and there have been evening lectures.
My great release is our boat. It’s moored in the South of France and we can get there and back by easyJet from Luton to Nice, then it’s 15 minutes by taxi. It’s the 10th season we’ve had it – it’s a Princess 45 cruiser. That’s what recharges the battery. We get down there for Friday night and it’s a great relaxation. We book weekends in advance. Water sports have always been my passion. I was swimming from a young age and swam at a national level – backstroke and butterfly. When I’m not reading business documents, I’m reading trashy novels or indulging my current passion – killer sudoku. It’s a good ‘switch off’ and good brain exercise. I need the challenge.