How did you get to become Britain’s most senior female Police Officer and be awarded with the Queen’s Police Medal for distinguished service?
I was very lucky. I was the third child of two
Oxford academics and grew up in a lovely family, surrounded by books and by people who talked about everything.
But my father died when I was 11
and it was tough for everyone. I saw
my mum’s challenges in bringing us
up without a partner. That said, I feel I
was very privileged. Lots of people don’t
have the advantages I had.
My mum always thought I could do
anything my big brother could, which was quite unusual in the 1960s and 1970s when a lot of girls were told you can do this, but you can’t do that.
Some were even told that boys were
better than girls. My mum would have
none of that in our household, and it
gave me a lot of confidence to try things
out and have a go.
At school I loved sport but,
academically, I was not brilliant at anything. When I was 12, 13, 14, I was a bit lazy, and quite naughty as well. Not major crime, just silly things. I was, I think, led astray by others, but I was the one who always got caught. I was an unlikely future police officer.
When I went back to my old school
years later there was a newspaper
clipping saying something like ‘Local
girl is top cop.’ My old biology teacher
had scrawled across it: “Poacher turned
When I was heading towards
A-levels I decided to take science
subjects rather than the arts
because of the self-discipline
involved. I knuckled down to
my studies, had some
good teachers, and got
decent grades. I went on
to university and I was
not the hardest working
student. But I got
involved in a lot of
even though I am only
five foot four inches. I’m
sure that those activities
were just as important, if
not more so, than academic
study in terms of learning
I had been interested in the
police for some time. At 16 or 17 I
had spent a week with my local
police force, going on patrol. I applied
to that same force before I left
university, but they turned me down and I never found out why. I wasn’t cross though, it was just disheartening and made me doubt myself a bit. After I got my degree I decided to go out and try something different, to find what really suited me, and to grow up a bit more.
I joined an accountancy firm in London. I was not terrible at it, and I enjoyed being in the City, but I quickly realised it was not the life for me. I applied to the Metropolitan Police, and they accepted me.
Almost from the moment I arrived, I loved
policing. I loved dealing with the public, the company of my colleagues, the level of commitment, the occasional
I also realised
that, then as
now, the police
offered a lot of
After 30 years I
back and think of
the police careers
I could have had.
I would have loved
going into forensic
science or being a
dog handler or a DC
dealing with sexual
offences or armed
robbery. I always
imagined being a community
officer for five or six years and really getting to know that community. I always loved being on the streets.
But don’t get me wrong, I
loved the path I took, running operations, becoming a commander in the Met,
investigating gun crime. I have really enjoyed running specialist anti-terrorist
operations and dealing with the security and intelligence agencies and the military, which is fascinating. And I
was so honoured to be awarded a CBE for services to Policing in the 2015 New
Year Honours’ List. Like anything in life you have to know when it’s time to
move on once you have accomplished what you want in a profession. I did that in 2015 by joining the Foreign Office where I
am now a Director General.
MY ADVICE TO YOU IS...
If you find yourself doing something you don’t like, that doesn’t suit you, the brave and right thing to do is to stop and do something else.
Finally, you may not think this now, but life is short. So if you find an area of work which makes you happy, makes you feel fulfilled, stick with it. Not every day will be brilliant but it’s worth it.