Author Archives: Shirley

Any more waves?

Why do I feel that this time it’s going to be different? That the Fourth Wave of Feminism will actually achieve equality?

Because the men are different.

Compared to the unafraid, more serious, individualist men of today, the macho but fearful, grey flannel Suits of the 70s were waxworks.

Today’s men can see the logic of the situation: it makes sense not to waste 50% of the country’s brains. It makes sense to dump the medieval attitude of men towards women that has so clearly not been dumped by Islamic extremists. It is only fair to treat women as equals, rather than unpaid servants.

In the 70s, the male backlash against feminism was instant and brutally effective. Feminists were branded hairy-legged, saggy-breasted, aggressive lesbians.

Worse – they were “unfeminine”. Nobody has yet worked out what “unfeminine” means because to be a woman is, by definition, to be feminine.

But – after years of being taught how to be feminine by women’s magazines – Seventies’ women were terrified of being unfeminine.

This time round, wanting Equal Pay doesn’t stop you wearing heels and shopping for lacy underwear at Agent Provocateur: you can be a feminine feminist.


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What Will They Inherit?

What Will They Inherit?

Our children - how will the budget  deficit affect them?

No, it’s not Boujis, it’s Woodland Hills High School Prom no. 1, 2012. Photographer: Mark Neville.

A colossal debt is what our grandchildren stand to inherit. Let’s be clear about this, because politicians are not always clear, perhaps because they don’t understand it, although that’s unlikely.

  • The National Debt is the total amount of money that Britain has borrowed and not yet repaid.
  • The Budget Deficit is our yearly overspend, when there isn’t enough tax income to pay for Britain’s expenditure.We borrow the necessary amount of money, and it is added to the National Debt, which has been increased yearly, both by the Labour and Conservative/Liberal governments.
  • There’s a Budget Deficit because every year, there’s not enough money to pay handouts to all the people that want them – and they include all of us, from pram-pushers to pensioners. Because we all want our piece of the pie, the Chancellor borrows money to pay for it all.
  • Interest must be paid promptly on the National Debt, because otherwise nobody would continue to lend money to Britain.
  • The total National Debt is now over £1,430 Billion pounds: that is, over a million pounds, multiplied by a thousand, with that amount multiplied again by another thousand … I hope that’s absolutely clear.

Britain is spending more on National Debt interest than on Defence and almost the same as on Education. And we are not repaying that borrowed money.

In 2014, the Treasury sent a letter to every one of Britain’s 24 million taxpayers; it contains a gaily-coloured pie chart, so we can see how our tax is spent. I cannot see that any money is being paid to reduce the National Debt.

Tax pie chart

HMRC tax summary

What can be done about it? Ask your would-be candidates before next year’s General Election.

Why not reduce the National Debt by 3% a year? Then, after 33 years it will have been repaid, so our grandchildren will not inherit this terrible burden. Less than 3% a year will not repay that debt fast enough.

Where can the spending cuts be made? Perhaps on Overseas Aid and Defence – who’s going to invade us? And perhaps Business and Industry might stand on their own feet, unsupported by my tax and your tax?

If we steadily paid off the National Debt in that way, it would reduce the relevant amount of interest payable, and so, gradually, that big slice of the pie would also get smaller and smaller.

But politicians publicly ignore this debt. They know that, to get our votes, they had better pay us our piece of the pie.

But not paying off our National Debt is as morally dishonest as not paying our personal debt. It is even more immoral when we know – conveniently pushed to the back of our mind – that we are leaving this huge burden to our children and – if we don’t do something about it – also to our chubby-cheeked grandchildren.

Clearly, this is morally wrong. So perhaps that 3% repayment should be included in next year’s budget plans and the gaily-coloured pie chart.

Main photo: Pulitzer Prize nominee photographer Mark Neville, famous for his socially focused projects.


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How Julia Broke Big

How Julia Broke Big

Julia Hobsbawm

Julia Hobsbawm

My friend Julia failed academically at school and didn’t go to university. So how did she become a professor?

“Networking is social navigation – it’s as much about what to look for as who to know,” says Julia Hobsbawm, who wrote and presented the BBC Radio 4 series ‘Networking Nation’.

Think of networking music producer and talent-spotter Simon Cowell, who built up his business through classic networking. Think of, which started small with a good idea and now gets more than 60 million page-views a month – which is more than the entire population of Ireland or Greece, as every politician knows. So start small, think big.

“Building up your own network is like building your fitness,” says Julia. “You don’t diet and lose weight overnight, or run a marathon in a week. You slowly change your behaviour as you find out what works and what doesn’t. You need patience and stamina to keep going.”

By 2012 Julia had been made Honorary Visiting Professor in Networking at Cass Business School in London. In 2014 the Foreign & Commonwealth Office invited her to join its Diplomatic Excellence Panel.

“It’s not enough to join Facebook or Twitter then leave it at that,” Julia warns, “Face-to-face matters hugely, even in a Facebook age. You get a direct connection when you meet someone, look into someone’s eyes and hear their voice. People who meet others are happier than those who simply stay online.”

So leave the keyboard sometimes. Get out there and party.

Follow Julia Hobsbawm on Twitter: @juliahobsbawm
Find out more at

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Breaking Big

Breaking Big

Author Tara Mohr

Author Tara Mohr

It’s an irritating fashion. Internationally famous businesswomen are writing advice books, firstly to publicise themselves as not being a one-trick pony, secondly so that ordinary women can … just get off their arses and DO IT TOO. I’ve been yawning through these books for months when … suddenly … here comes the glass-ceiling smasher.

I had only read halfway through Playing Big when I realised it was one of the most important books in my life. If I see a good point in a book, I underline it in red. The first part of Playing Big looked as if I’d haemorrhaged over it.

I read the second half slowly, one chapter a week, so that I could absorb and practise what this life coach teaches so well. (Don’t think Tara Mohr looks too young to know the Secret of Life.) Some of her book had taken me years to discover, some of the practical stuff I thought I’d invented myself. Much of Playing Big, I quickly realised I needed to know. The New Age bit I took on trust … and it worked: I now have an Inner Mentor.

So, have you ever felt not-good-enough? Of course you have. Ever suffered from fear, self-doubt or lack of confidence? Join the club…

Secretly, every woman aspires to something. If you want to do anything other than housework and homework, this is your guide. If you want to achieve anything, or simply be less stressed, this book will help you do it. In it you will find your voice, your ability, your self-confidence and perhaps even your mission in life. Buy it. Pass it on.

Playing Big by Tara Mohr , is published by Hutchinson, hardback price £16.99.

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Entitlement / Biker Menace

ENTITLEMENT  “Working class” no longer describes a group of people. We all work. The Queen is working class. Union leaders probably work just as hard as Madonna.

So what replacement phrase to use?
Lower-income group and middle-income group. We can all be groupies.
The Rich stay The Rich.


BIKER MENACE  Maybe city cyclists need to pass a highway code test, pay for a road license and display their number on the back of their bike – ready for CCTV cameras to record their breath-taking, lawbreaking stupidity, and save NHS bills for themselves and their victims.

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Big Investment

Ben has two young children and is considering a mortgage with a deposit of £160,000.

Ben, gloomily, “It’s a big investment.”

Me, “A baby costs more. The Daily Telegraph says a child costs £227,000 to rear, if it doesn’t go to uni.”

Ben, still gloomy, “Trouble is, you can’t sell the baby.”

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A week free of interruptions

A week free of interruptions

Cannizaro House

Cannizaro House

Last week I left home and went to Cannizaro House in Wimbledon to a place recommended by my taxi driver. It’s an utterly wonderful 18th Century house with grounds open to the public and I could see children of two or three with their mothers tottering around on their way to the park. This was to give me a week free of interruptions in order to finish the international dollar edition of Money Stuff. I had a good rest into the bargain.

Evelyn Waugh's Scoop

Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop

I took quite a lot of books with me. Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop – something light that would make me laugh – and Michael Frayn’s Towards the End of the Morning. I  took Jane Austin’s Mansfield Park, which I didn’t read.

I also took a book by the mother of my school friend, politician  Shirley Williams, Testament of Youth, by Vera Brittain.

She was an early feminist and pacifist. She had a job persuading her parents to let her work.

Vera Brittain

Vera Brittain

I also watched Kate Adie’s Women of World War One on BBC Two which was about women taking up men’s work during the war. We owe a lot to those women – when taking on a mortgage, for example – they paved the way for us.

I had a long email from a Jewish friend in Australia about the situation in Gaza. We had a long email correspondence and I thought afterwards that both sides have grievances but it’s about time it was defined as a modern, not a medieval matter. Killing doesn’t get you very far but destroys too many young men and families.

The troubles in the Middle East and the Balkans, as it was known, are all caused by the indiscriminate carving up of countries after world war one, by drawing lines on a map without taking any account of natural land boundaries, the language spoken or what Gods they prayed to.

I came home to find all my in trays full again.

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The Women in My Week.

The Women in My Week.

Monday. Dr Samantha Callan, stayed overnight. She’s an anthropologist and a director of the Centre for Social Justice. She says that staying with me is “like going home to mum”. I try to give her breakfast in bed when she stays, but she starts work at 5am!

Samantha is a joy to work with and worked with me on Money Stuff. Samantha was the first person I contacted – I was interested in understanding body language. I would take her to meetings with ministers. Before we went in she would tell me what physical signs to look for, to see if they were interested. At the first meeting I almost collapsed with laughter as the minister did everything Samantha predicted!

Tuesday . Caitlin Moran generously gave me and a friend free tickets to her last gig at Union Chapel in Islington. Caitlin was her usual amazing self. She held the stage for two hours, and was very funny. It was such an impressive performance. I felt privileged to be there in the second row. Afterwards, the queue for her book signing went round the church and outside.

Wednesday .

I had my monthly talk with my M.E. mentor, Alex Howard. He has had M.E. since he was 18. When you have M.E. you have to do what the virus wants you to do. It’s always unexpected and no one can predict where it will strike you or when. My life, at the moment, is on a danger line – after the Maths Anxiety Trust launch I had to deal with huge amounts of attention, plus talk to education people. There was no question of putting it off.


Thursday .

Treat of the week was lunch with Antonia Fraser who has recently been made a Companion of Honour by Her Majesty The Queen. I said that it was a pity that Harold wasn’t here to see this, and she replied that she didn’t think Harold would care but her mother would have.

Antonia was looking very pretty in mauve, an Edwardian colour that has fallen out of fashion, but is very flattering. We talked about what authors generally talk about: agents, tours, publishers. But also online publicity, which is just as important these days.

Antonia is is very disciplined – she had to be,  with six children – and she can only work from order.  She has a big,  beautiful  QUIET  work room in which she writes  but she does all her housekeeping work at a desk in  a niche from her rose-patterned bedroom.


Friday .

Worked with Caroline Shott, Chair of the Learning Skills Foundation. The Foundation is working to introduce teachers to scientists who are making discoveries in the brain. Neuroscientists can work with teachers to look at ways to make learning better geared to their needs. It sound boring but it explains why teenagers – previously normal human beings – can’t get up before 11am.




I’ve booked my yearly trip to The Abbey in Penzance, run by the first  international model- and still turning heads – Jean Shrimpton. She has exquisite taste and the hotel is stunning,  with views of Penzance Harbour on one side, and the blue walled gardens with its privet hedges on the other side.

Each bedroom suite is individually furnished with beautiful pictures and antiques:  The Abbey is more luxurious and comfortable than many a stately home.

I can get to a romantic beach without the horrors of an airport that can exhaust me before I start a trip.  Then there’s no jet lag.  I simply get on  train at Paddington Station,  have a good read and get off at Penzance,  where Jean whisks me off to a strawberries tea with clotted cream-and-scones in the quiet of an elegant drawing room .

The Abbey is available to rent – and it’s the perfect place for a family occasion.

The Abbey, Penzance

The Abbey, Penzance



I visited Sophie Conran’s charming new website. I see Sophie as a more-sophisticated Cath Kidston with good taste – I ordered some raspberry linen napkins, knowing that they would be the right shade of raspberry. My connection with Sophie is that she’s part of my extended family – the half-sister of my sons, Sebastian and Jasper,  and the daughter of my first husband by his third wife.I hope that’s clear.

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Why no progress in 50 years?

Why no progress in 50 years?

The Palace of Westminster. Photograph by Eleanor Bentall

The Palace of Westminster. Photograph by Eleanor Bentall

I seemed to spend recent months head down, at my office being a first-time publisher, but my diary proves there was plenty of fun.

My maths course, MONEY STUFF, was successfully tested at Loughborough University, which has a reputation for being ahead of the trend. Then dynamic Nicky Morgan MP for Loughborough, invited me to the House of Commons for the launch of Loughborough University’s extension leap into London, at the Olympic village. Student displays of their work were impressive. I particularly liked a new take on the life belt – a tiny, light, engine-powered raft that a lifeguard can use to tow a swimmer in distress. Turn on the engine, point it at the beach and up to four people in danger of drowning can be safely towed ashore.


I spent a magical evening in the Orangery of Kensington Palace, hosted by Justine Picardie, for Harpers Bazaar UK magazine. All went as smoothly as a royal function. Also present was Lucy Worsley, TV historian with the mischievous schoolgirl grin and the ability to make history sit up and chat to you. When talking to you alone, Lucy (pictured below) is just as witty and entertaining as she is on TV.

Lucy Worsley

While we drank champagne and nibbled, Lucy and Justine sat on bar stools – difficult to do with elegance – and talked about the fashion collection from royal wardrobes, housed at Kensington Palace. Then we all walked over to the Palace to see some of the 1950’s clothes of H.M. The Queen and her sister, H.R.H. Princess Margaret.

Many of the exquisite gowns were made by Normal Hartwell who, together with photographer Cecil Beaton, created the fairy-tale-but-cosy family brand of George VI who hurriedly replaced his brother, that naughty King Edward VIII who couldn’t do his duty without a hard-boiled, American divorcee, Mrs Simpson, to hold his hand, etcetera, so abdicated.

Cecil Beaton brands the Royals

Cecil Beaton brands the Royals

Eleanor Bentall dropped by for coffee and to show me her brilliant photographs. My favourite was this portrait of Beryl Bainbridge (see below). We agreed that at sometime, Eleanor will photograph me, but she’s currently booked for months ahead.

Photograph by Eleanor Bentall

Photograph by Eleanor Bentall

It was sad at the funeral of 83-year-old Patrick Seale, the foremost expert on Syrian history, past wars and the present ones. After Patrick’s funeral – standing room only in the chapel – I felt energyless and depressed. I kept telling myself that I had been lucky to know him, but that didn’t help, so I remembered our adventures.

I met Patrick when he was European editor of The Observer and I was fashion editor. Back then, you were only allowed to take £50 a year out of Britain, unless you were going abroad on business. My French cash for the trip didn’t come through in time, so I caught the plane to Paris with a weird collection of cash – francs, lire, kopeks, zloty – that the accounts department hurriedly produced. Once in Paris (see below), Patrick sorted out the money and proved the ideal companion.

Eiffel Tower, Paris

A couple of years later, Patrick became a literary agent, around the time I was forced to leave Fleet Street because of a chronic illness. Now unable to earn, I could no longer afford home help and found that books on housekeeping were stodgy, often unhelpful and sometimes wrong. So I chatted to plumbers, electricians, house painters and butlers, in order to learn how to do it from the horse’s mouth.

One evening Patrick phoned; his voice always sounded as if the two of you shared some fantastic secret. He said, “I’ve sold your book!”

I said, “What book?”

“Your book on housework!”

“But I’ve only written notes for myself.”

“I have the cheque in my pocket.”

“I’m writing a book.”

And that is how I came to write Superwoman, a book on how to minimise housework. I was attacked both by feminists and women who felt I was depriving them of their purpose, and so their identity, leaving their life empty and meaningless. So I wrote another book on what to do with the time you save by minimising housework.

Suffragettes in an early Equality struggle with the Law

An early Equality struggle with the Law

Later, remembering those feminist attacks, I phoned my close friend Peter York. Peter is the boss of Social Research Unit, and I had a social question for him. “What’s happening to feminism?” I asked, “It seems to be advancing all over the world but in Britain, where the Equal Pay gap is widening.”

Nearly fifty years ago, I sat with four other journalists in somebody’s bedsitter as Anne Sharply [Evening Standard] collected 50p from each of us to start Women in Media, with the Third Wave of Feminism.

I was responsible for all British Media coverage. Quickly, Women in Media grew to 300 journalists lobbying for equal opportunity and equal pay for work of equal value – and soon this became the law.

But fifty years later women still do not have equal pay or equal opportunity – even at the BBC, which is a public institution paid for by our equal taxes. Sexist behaviour and speech is still condoned as ‘laddish’ or ‘banter’ – whatever that is – that women should take as a compliment. We don’t need such compliments: we need equal pay. People normally get fined or put in prison for disobeying the law: why is this not happening to all directors of Footsie 100 public companies?

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SAVAGES by Shirley Conran

Savages by Shirley Conran


SAVAGES: One day in Hollywood, a movie producer asked me what would happen if a group of executive wives suddenly found themselves in a strange place…

… where all their usual support systems had been whipped away. I believe that women can do more than they think they can. So I wrote Savages.

The story starts when a group of powerful mining executives bring their wives to the South Pacific paradise Island of Paui, for a tropical holiday. And, having secretly found rare minerals on the island, the men are determined to strike a swift deal for mining rights.

The wives have little in common: timid, home-maker Annie, outspoken landscape designer Carey, and athletic Patty steer clear of the boss’ wife, Italian-born Silvana, and they all avoid Suzy, who looks like a mermaid and comes from the slums.

While their husbands visit a copper mine, the wives explore the beautiful coast by luxury yacht. On the return trip, the yacht breaks down and these pampered women are forced to finish the short journey on foot. As they near the Paradise Hotel, their pleasure trip becomes a real nightmare.

‘Full of authentic, detail . . . a first-class adventure story’
Daily Express

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