Gentle touch, sharp instincts

Anyone wishing to read Sarah Sands’ second
novel, Hothouse, about a diary editor on a London newspaper, in the
hope that it will give some insight into the new boss of The Sunday
Telegraph is likely to be disappointed The paperback, which tells the
story of an ambitious journalist on a London gossip column, was due to
be on sale from 3 June, but a quick ring round a few bookshops reveals
that they are still awaiting delivery.

Hothouse, a “bittersweet,
funny novel of life on an evening newspaper”, is Sands’ second novel
based on the lives of women in the media – her first, Playing the Game,
was set in the world of television.

While neither could be
described as heavyweight, the fact that Sands has had time to write two
books while working up to 12-hour days as deputy editor of The Daily
Telegraph and editing the Saturday edition, is tribute to what former
Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore describes as her “energetic,
enthusiastic, original and inspired” personality.

Sands, who
has three children and whose husband Kim Fletcher was until last week
editorial director of the Telegraph Group, has portrayed herself as a
news junkie with “absolutely no social life”.

The only time the
couple ever had for themselves was a visit to the gym together at
lunchtime, she said in an interview in Press Gazette in 2000 – “it’s my
way of offsetting the fact that I drink and smoke”.

Sands went on
to say she was incapable of relaxing on a beach on holiday and it had
been 10 years since she had held a dinner party. “I’m so out of
practice now, I just wouldn’t know what to do at one,” she said.
“Pathetic, I know.”

But friends laugh at the suggestion that Sands has no time for socialising.

“She
may well not give dinner parties, but she goes out a great deal in the
evenings. She’s certainly no stranger to parties,” says Nicholas
Coleridge, managing director of Condé Nast magazines.

He
describes her as “bright and fun to be with” but also “very intelligent
and professional”, although he dismisses as “preposterous” the rumours
last year that he had approached Sands to edit Vogue.

A light-hearted exchange of emails in which Coleridge told her the salary would be “£15,000 plus healthcare”

was
published by Press Gazette and concluded with Sands telling him: “I was
so thrilled, I will be buying a Barbara Amiel-style wardrobe to
celebrate.

I think it is a version of working smart that you no
longer have to go through the dreary time-consuming process of being
approached and accepting, etc.

“Perhaps you would let me know one day via the media diaries, love Sarah.” 

Colleagues agree she is hardworking but also “mischievous and a great deal of fun”.

When Press Gazette’s new proprietor, Piers Morgan, was editor of the
News of the World, Sands was on the Londoner’s diary at the Evening
Standard. After it carried a piece suggesting that Morgan had been
involved with Paul Gascoigne’s wife, Morgan recalls how he telephoned
to give “a lady called Sarah Sands” his views of “their disgraceful
piece of inaccurate, intrusive journalism”. Sands “stitched me up
spectacularly” by printing the exchange, he notes in his book. (He’ll
be pleased to hear that one of the love interests in Hothouse is also
named Piers.)n According to a journalist who worked with Sands on The
Daily Telegraph, she is “entertaining and in some ways completely
bonkers”.

He adds: “If you started pitching her with an idea and
she didn’t like it, she would simply put her hands over her ears and
sing ‘la la la la’ so she couldn’t hear you. She’s quite mad.”

But
Sands does have “a strong instinct” for a story, says another. “She
loves row stories and controversy stories and personalities clashing
with each other. Sometimes I wouldn’t agree with her and think it was
dull. But by the time you finished it, it had turned into quite a fun
piece.

“You sometimes slightly despaired if you had what she
thought were dull, worthy stories that you actually thought were
important pieces of journalism. It could be quite frustrating.

“Destruction
of the rainforest – she’s not interested. But if you can get Sting and
Anita Roddick arguing over it, then she would be.”

Sands is
expected to make the paper more appealing, particularly to women, and
generally more engaging. But she has dismissed the notion that as a
woman she is going to focus less on politics and more on lifestyle.

Moore,
whose “first act” on becoming editor in 1995 was to appoint her as his
deputy, says her intelligence shouldn’t be underestimated. “I’ve heard
people say she’s not very interested in politics, but I don’t think
that’s true. She hasn’t got a Westminster village interest in it, but
she has got a tremendous political feel.”

Sands is also good at
drawing the right people around her, insists Moore, who says she
brought “a greater freshness, stylishness and sharpness” to the
newspaper when he was editor.

Although sharp, friends say Sands
deals thoughtfully with staff and is as popular with the soft feature
writers as hard news journalists. “She has the respect of two quite
different groups – a lot of people have a great deal of time for her,”
says Coleridge.

Although Sands is popular, there are “lots of
jealousies towards her, probably more from women than men, whom she’s
very good at being a bit flirtatious with – an approach that always
worked very well on the middle-aged male section editors,” says one
former colleague.

Sands, it is also noted, never went to the office of editor Martin Newland, nor of his predecessor, Moore.

“She would never go in to see them, or anyone else,” says the former colleague.

“She
had this glass box and they were next door but they would always go to
her. She would be there behind the desk and Charles Moore would go and
sit there. It was a very interesting way of working.”

Sands is adept at dealing with office politics and “very good at making people feel good about themselves”.

Her
popularity among staff is undoubted, as is her ability to draw people
together and inspire them, says another colleague. “At the same time,
when she lost interest in people she would cut them off a bit. The
jokey emails would stop and it would be difficult to get a response
from her. It wasn’t a permanent thing. People went in and out of
fashion. It wasn’t that you were finished; she would just lose interest
in you for a while and then if you did some stuff or she wanted you to
do something you would be back in favour again.”

Sands has
refused to make a big deal of the fact that she is the first woman to
edit The Sunday Telegraph, but Moore says it is a significant decision
and one he welcomes.

“I’ve always been convinced that she should be the number one,” he says.

“It’s
a great thing for a Telegraph title to have a female editor. I’m very
glad that it’s happened with her because no one could possibly say it’s
a token appointment. It’s absolutely on merit, but there are things
about her that will bring extra to what the Telegraph can offer and
that will add to the excitement.

“In the past there was an
unspoken view that it would be difficult for a woman to be editor of a
Telegraph title, just because they had never had one. I thought that
was wrong and always hoped that Sarah would make it to editor, so I’m
thrilled.”

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