Hold your ground.
Hold your ground. So I ran that course and…
I totally want to do that course now!
Yeah, yeah! Anyway. I wrote the article. Cosmo came back and said, “Right, we’ll advertise this course. You’ll run it.” And for much of the early ’80s in Britain I ran this very funny course with about 100 women every Saturday.
And then I came over to Australia with my husband John—first time I’d ever been. Left the baby behind, Charity. Aged one. And John was a great heavyweight industrial relations man, great leader, lovely character, he was speaking all over Australia on all sorts of things. And the junior PR person in the team that was supporting him said, “Julia, you’re going to do some speaking as well. I’ve got hold of Cosmo and they asked if you could make a speech?” I said, “I’d love to! Let’s do the women stuff! That’ll be really good!” ’83 this was. I said to John, “Can I come and tune in?” He said, “Yes of course darling! It’d be marvellous to have you.” Rang up the insurance company who said, “I’m really sorry. Your wife could not possibly come with you. The fourth floor of the boardroom in Melbourne is a male-only area.” And John said, “You can’t be serious.” And they said, “I’m afraid so.”
I said to John, “I bet you anything the boardroom’s got a kitchen off the side. I’ll come and stand in the kitchen and listen with my ear to the door.” And in the end I stood behind a screen in the kitchen listening to him making this speech in the boardroom.
‘Cause women are allowed in the kitchen?
Yeah. But not in the boardroom. And then I went to run this big gathering with marvellous Melbourne girls who’d come in for the Cosmopolitan Change your Life on Saturday course. And The Age ran a headline: “Julia Cleverdon, patron saint of Australian working women.” And I’ve always held on to it! [Laughs]. In Britain, as in Australia, the march of getting women up and into the talented roles—talk about leaning in—is one of our biggest challenges. The corporates who won’t find the flexible ways of managing all of this are just missing tricks.
This conversation needs to be had.
If you have a woman at the top, that tends to get a message out that you can have it all. I mean, I lost my darling husband 17 years ago. He died on holiday with us in Greece. So I’ve been a single mum to my two daughters while also driving the business. At any moment in life you will be working all night producing whatever for the business. But if at this precise moment you’ve got to be with the family, that’s the end of it. So I love all the “lean in” stuff. I love hearing from my daughters, the youngest of whom is the youngest detective chief inspector in the metropolitan police.
And the oldest has been in Sierra Leone nursing Ebola patients for eight weeks in a plastic protective suit.
I need to interview both your daughters now!
Ah, well they’d love that! Though they’re frightfully secretive. And they’d probably be frightfully cross.
[Laughs] so your daughter in Sierra Leone, how was that experience for her?
There were 25 British nurses in Freetown, in the sort of main centre. And to begin with, 50 percent of all the children who came in and out died within 24 hours. And because they were entirely dressed in plastic, you couldn’t really cuddle them. And it was just absolutely horrendous. She’s a great Buddhist. And she went off after that to quite a lengthy Buddhist retreat! Has come back again, more peaceful and calm, and I think it was an extraordinary experience for her. So brave. I wouldn’t have been able to do it, I’m sure.
Wow. I can’t believe you let her! [Laughs].
Well, I know! And there was a terrible family fight. I had a most lovely PA, Bernie Hearn, who worked with me for 24 years and she died very unexpectedly and tragically. And then my Charity came back and said she was going to Sierra Leone, and please could I look after her dog? And I said, “No!” The day she went to Sierra Leone I would shoot her dog!
‘Cause I was not losing anybody else that I loved! And in the end, my younger daughter who’s a police officer said that I couldn’t be so mean and of course I wouldn’t shoot the dog, and I had to look after the damn dog.
I think threatening your children is perfectly acceptable if they want to go off to fight Ebola!
[Laughs] I love the dog. I probably wouldn’t have shot the dog. But there was a moment where I wasn’t feeling very strong!
You must be so proud of your daughters. I mean, the ultimate reward as a parent is to see your adult children resilient and doing good work in the community and living meaningful lives. Have you got any tips?
Well, like you, I’ve had a working life in which I brought up the children or did my best to bring up the children with my mum and marvellous nanny and all the rest of it. And I worked very hard. And then unlike you, I hope, I lost my darling husband. The girls were 11 and 15. So it’s been a very interesting journey to see how you can both parent and achieve all the things at work. I won’t work weekends. I won’t work August. [Laughs] only two nights a week belong to the organisation. I think for professional women driving their way through the challenges that corporate life brings, it’s just too easy to say, “No, I’ll be missing bath time on Tuesday,” and then you’re suddenly missing bath time on Wednesday and Thursday and Friday, and then they’re grown up and you never see them in the bath. It isn’t forever. Although in some ways I think they need you more during teenage years than those early childhood days. I remember when I came back and said to my mother, about my first marriage, “Oh Mum, I’m so sorry. I’m going to divorce and it’s a storm and it’s in the papers.” She said: “Darling, I thought life was going to be easier when we got you out of nappies.”
I think that being a mum goes on forever. I mean, when a daughter rings up and says, “I’m in trouble and I’ve got to wear my best shirt tomorrow and it’s still in the washing machine and please could you get it out?” I rush to get it out.
Yeah. I love that. I mean, you are working with the Prince of Wales and “I need you to get my shirt Mum from the washing machine” is like the ultimate grounding request!
Yeah, it is. And he is always marvellous about families. And has done a fantastic job with those lovely sons. They’re an immense credit to him in the way they are taking up their responsibilities. And in family life as well.
I think your daughters are very lucky to have you around, Dame Julia.
Well, when I’m on my deathbed looking back over my life, what I’m proud of having done, I’ll have pride in helping to shape Business in the Community and I’ll be very proud of getting Teach First up and running, and I’m immensely hopeful that Teach For Australia is going to do the same thing. But in the end I shall be proudest of my darling girls. And the fun we’ve had as a family. And then the next generation will take it on. And that’s all one can hope for.