Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

In Some Ways I'm Sorry Because We Women Made It Look like It Was All Easy -- and It Really Isn't; She Was Tony Blair's Gatekeeper and Is a Powerhouse in Public Relations. Anji Hunter tellsAlison Roberts Why It's Her New Mission to Help Other Women Join Her at the Top

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

In Some Ways I'm Sorry Because We Women Made It Look like It Was All Easy -- and It Really Isn't; She Was Tony Blair's Gatekeeper and Is a Powerhouse in Public Relations. Anji Hunter tellsAlison Roberts Why It's Her New Mission to Help Other Women Join Her at the Top

Article excerpt

Byline: Alison Roberts

AS TONY Blair's right-hand woman, adviser, gatekeeper and fixer-in-chief, Anji Hunter was once at the centre of political power, a permanent fixture on the No 10 sofa beside the then-PM's trusted backwatchers Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell. Yet I bet she was the only one of that cosy group to have their children's homework regularly faxed to Downing Street.

"I had an ex-teacher as a childminder because I didn't want the homework side of things to slip when I wasn't there," she says, "and I'd often get it faxed up to me so that I could talk to the kids on the phone about it later ..." GCSE maths thus jostled for Hunter's attention alongside policy, diarykeeping and the PM's PR in a feat of mental compartmentalising the like of which few men on her pay grade were obliged to perform.

More than a decade later, following an eight-year stint as director of communications for BP, she is now a senior adviser at the world's biggest PR firm, Edelman. She still sees women spinning the same old work/family plates -- and counsels a steely, unsentimental focus on career.

It's a subject to which Hunter, who is 58 and married to Sky News political editor Adam Boulton, has been giving a great deal of thought lately. In a new role as mentor to female employees at Edelman -- which has pledged to hit 50-50 gender equality targets in the boardroom by 2016 -- she's being paid for what she claims to have done throughout her career. "I've always encouraged other women," she says. "I've been doing it all my life. There will be lots of women who'll read this and say, 'Yes, she helped me get on'."

Hunter joins an increasingly lively debate between those who tell working mothers to "lean in" to their careers, to "merge life and work", and those who warn of a rising "motherism", a prejudice against women who choose not to pursue their careers hell-forleather while their children are small. If she's unequivocally on the side of the leaners-in, she also recognises that it's not got much easier since the days when she and her political girlfriends "worked like buggery" and left the children with someone else.

She's mixed on the big biologism issues: small children need mums more than dads, she reckons, yet the emotional ties between a mother and a six-month-old baby should never stop a woman going back to work.

"Oh, you can get over that," she says. "As long as they know the person looking after them is kind and loves them, they'll be fine ..."

Later she says: "Of course it's terrible when they're clinging to your leg as you hand them over to the childminder, and they're wailing 'Mummyyy!' But you've got to steel yourself and get out of there. My childminder used to tell me hang outside for a couple of minutes and then peep through the window. Of course they'd be fine once they'd thought I'd gone."

That hissing sound you can hear? It's the sharp intake of breath from an entire faculty of developmental psychologists. Yet most mothers in the UK work fulltime, and for almost a third of families they are the main breadwinner -- an extraordinary rise of 80 per cent over just the past 15 years.

Hunter is often described in terms that stress her vigour or "big personality". She's a "force to be reckoned with", said the CEO of Edelman UK, Ed Williams, when her appointment was announced in July.

Her energy does seem to define her, as she strides across the Edelman offices in Victoria, 20 years older than anyone else I can see but somehow more animated than all of them.

She says she doesn't miss politics but describes her central position in the Labour government back then. In the media, by contrast, she was often Blair's "tie-chooser", which is the label she most resents.

"I was belittled by outsiders. But that didn't worry me at the time." And what about inside the camp? How visible was she really? Did they ever ask her to make the tea? …

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