Why we must all learn to say 'no!'
She’s the working mother-of-three who’s revolutionising the way we think about ourselves. Edwina Langley speaks to Mrs Moneypenny about scary women, ambition and why it’s never too late to turn your life around
Women tend to put themselves last,’ says Mrs Moneypenny. ‘Men never got anywhere by putting themselves last.’
Strong words. But for those unfamiliar with the presenter of Channel 4’s SuperScrimpers: Waste Not Want Not, author of five books, managing director of a respected executive search firm, wife and mother of three sons, Mrs Moneypenny is NOT a feminist. In fact, she doesn’t believe in glass ceilings at all.
No, Mrs Moneypenny believes that both in and out of the workplace, women are only really held back by a lack of confidence, an inability to say ‘no’, and a reluctance to accept that feelings of guilt often accompany tough decisions. If we could get over these pitfalls, we’d all be away. Easier said than done, you might think. Enter her latest book: Mrs Moneypenny’s Careers Advice For Ambitious Women. With its pink border and crocodile-skin-print cover, it looks like a Filofax, but it’s certainly no diary and nor is it a floppy ‘self helper’. ‘It’s the result of 11 years of observation,’ says Mrs Moneypenny. ‘That and acres of research, or “back-to-front” research. I looked to see whether my theories were backed up and was delighted to find that they were.’
It therefore follows that the book’s backbone is common sense, which Mrs Moneypenny has in abundance. She understands women’s insecurities and bulldozes through them. There is no such thing as an excuse with Mrs M. She’s the working mother-of-three who’s revolutionising the way we think about ourselves. Edwina Langley speaks to Mrs Moneypenny about scary women, ambition and why it’s never too late to turn your life around ‘Too many women,’ she writes, ‘give up on their ambitions too easily, often for the simplest, most unnecessary reasons. The one that is most unnecessary is “it is too late”.’
In fact, one whole chapter explores this theory – it is called ‘It Is Never Too Late’ – and it is packed with inspiring examples of ordinary women achieving extraordinary things. Take her 60-year-old neighbour, for instance, who became the first female to fly solo over the polar regions.
I defy anyone not to take something from this book – even if it’s just once a day practising the word ‘NO’ and using it in place of usual stock phrases – ‘I can’t just this minute’ or ‘I’ll try to next month’.
But behind the TV show, the professional persona and the book, who is the real Mrs Moneypenny? Even her name, for instance, is clearly an alias.
And she’s reluctant to let me use her real one. ‘I think for the audience of The Lady, “Mrs Moneypenny” might be more fun,’ she chuckles.
Right then, Moneypenny it is – although I’m not even sure that’s appropriate. The original Moneypenny’s sole mission in life, after all, was to become Mrs Bond. Certainly ‘ambitious’ but not much of a role model for most modern women.
So how did it all begin? ‘In 1999, the Financial Times asked me to write a column,’ she says, ‘and I had no idea why I was asked, because I worked in a bank. They said they were looking for someone to write a column about “sex in the workplace”. I said I was completely the wrong person as I’d never had any sex in the workplace.
‘But it turned out what they wanted was a column about gender in the workplace. I said I didn’t think that was a good idea either, as I don’t believe in glass ceilings. I also said I couldn’t do it because I’d be sacked. So they said they’d give me a pseudonym and came up with Moneypenny.’
With it came book deals, TV programmes and even a show at The Edinburgh Fringe (which went on to Broadway). A lucky break it might seem. But chat to Mrs M for just a minute or two and you’ll realise luck has had little to do with it.
‘I was brought up by a single-parent mother and had the most amazing stepfather who paid for me to go to school. My mother was always very ambitious for me, and she made some great sacrifices.’
But that was where the ‘luck’ ended and ‘Moneypenny’ took over. Mrs M is where she is today because of herself – her nous, her determination and the sacrifices she has made to get there. Of course there have been obstacles: she is often criticised for putting her career before her children (in the book she lists the former as her top priority) – but Mrs M knows never to kowtow to criticism.
Indeed, she says she best serves her sons by being successful. ‘I think you have to make a choice about what’s a priority in your life and to recognise that some of those choices will not feel great. It’s a bit like the first time you have your legs waxed. It’s something you have to get over.
‘When I started my own business, I sold everything; we didn’t own a property at all for years. By the time the recession hit, I had two children at school, a husband who wanted to change career, a big business to run and a charity I’d started. I had to make a choice: what’s going to go?’ she says. ‘Am I going to make more people redundant to keep my children in expensive schools? No. I realised my children were going to be fine. So I took them out of private school and went to look at the local states – which were actually very good.’
She says she doesn’t believe in regret and she talks with such Churchillian conviction – ‘the best way to help the poor is not to become one of them’ – that she seems almost invincible. One can’t help wondering whether there is anything that frightens her.
‘My mother-in-law,’ she says. ‘I’m not scared by any man. I’m scared by other scary women.’ I would agree, for I find Mrs M slightly scary myself.
Not only is she successful and motivating, but she’s also hilarious and hugely personable. All this was underlined when, at the recent book launch, Sarah Brown credited her as having been a great source of support throughout the Downing Street years. No mean accolade.
In fact, if you ever need inspiration, just turn to the miraculous Mrs Moneypenny. You won’t regret it.
Mrs Moneypenny’s Careers Advice For Ambitious Women by Mrs Moneypenny with Heather McGregor, is published by Penguin Portfolio, priced £16.99.
Mrs Moneypenny’s Top Career Tips
1. It’s never too late to start a career or get a qualification.
2. Build up your network. Include people from a range of industries.
3. Learn to say ‘No’ and not feel guilty about it.
4. Manage your expectations and work out priorities.
5. Speak the language of finance – read the Financial Times.
6. Have a Third Dimension – a ‘hobby’ that opens doors and makes you more interesting.
7. Update your CV, get a good haircut and use various social
8. Accept help. A support team is crucial – you can’t do it alone.
Daily tip from the lady archive
"AS a general rule, one’s stern duty in life seems to be to avoid the things in life that are pleasant, especially in the matter of diet."The Lady. Living Well. 16th August, 1928