Rosie Millard: Chair Hull City of Culture 2017
Hello Rosie. Here’s some advice. Don’t fuss so much about your appearance, feeling gauche or that you are wearing the wrong clothes. Nobody cares about designer labels on clothes and bags. It’s far more about what you say, frankly.
Equally for goodness’ sake have a bit more confidence in what you are saying. You don’t have to have confirmation from quite so many people that what you are saying is true, and interesting. It is.
On the other hand, well done for using female role models so effectively. I don’t think you would have ever had the nerve to start pitching ideas to newspapers, hiding in the cloakroom and dialing up the editor on an old fashioned phone, if you hadn’t been inspired by the likes of Janet Street Porter or Julie Burchill.
And congrats for understanding that once your voice and name was in the paper, you had muscle, and an asset. Seeing off that senior executive from Radio 4 who stole your idea was an important moment.
Sure, you never got any work from him again, but frankly it didn’t matter one bit. It was a courageous thing to do and a good lesson in understanding that people in the workplace don’t always play fair, that jobs don’t necessarily go to the best person and that commissions don’t always fall your way.
But well done for keeping on keeping on. It is, as you will learn when you run your first marathon in your forties, a long run. And you will need stamina.
Deborah McAndrew: Actor, playwright and Northern Broadsides stalwart
The general piece of advice I would give to my younger self is this – don’t beat yourself up, worrying what other people think of you. They’re certainly too preoccupied with their own anxieties to be judging you. However, this is advice I still need, so perhaps to answer this brief I need to be specific.
Six year old Deb: Look after that Annie Oakley hat, as one day you’ll wonder what happened to it.
Seven year old Deb: Pretending you’re having a sneezing fit to cover up blubbing at the reading of Charlotte’s Web in class doesn’t fool anyone.
Nine year old Deb: Don’t be afraid to put your hand up to ask for the loo, as you will wet yourself and that’s not the best way to start a new Brownie pack.
Eleven year old Deb: Don’t worry about feeling a bit of a freak. Writing plays and acting the goat will come in very handy one day.
Thirteen year old Deb: Don’t try and cut your own hair. You will NOT look like Isla St Clair, but you will look a total loser on the first day at your new school.
Sixteen year old Deb: Contrary to recent experience, snogging is something you will come to like (a lot!).
Seventeen year old Deb: Let it go, love. He’s gay.
Nineteen year old De: Don’t be intimidated by the other university first years. They seem cooler than you, but they’re just as scared really.
Twenty one year old Deb: Don’t go to teacher training college. You belong in showbiz.
Twenty six year old Deb: When a certain utterly gorgeous actor invites you to stay overnight at his digs, DON’T bottle out and call a cab - you flamin’ eejit!
Thirty year old Deb: (To be continued...).
Frances Atkins: Michelin star chef, Yorke Arms at Ramsgill
You will be infatuated with the world of restaurants and the love of beautiful food and wine and it will never occur to you that there will be any obstacles in your way. That’s the beauty of being a teenager, so enjoy because it will more than make up for any lack of experience.
When you leave Bradford Technical College, you will discover that getting a job as a chef in a good kitchen is nearly impossible. Don’t panic, that job as a canteen catering assistant during the day will teach you a few life lessons and those nights working in a sophisticated restaurant as a waitress will eventually pay off.
When you are allowed into that kitchen you will make mistakes. Lots of mistakes. Each time you do your pay will be docked to the point where you more or less work for nothing. It will be fine. The money will work out and always remember that you have found the thing you love to do. Not many people can say that.
Always be desperate to be better and when you find life hard don’t think of going to Scotland as running away. Think of it as an adventure for that is what it will turn out to be. There you will run your own kitchen and you will also meet a man much older than yourself who will introduce you to a new world of wonderful restaurants and groom you for very different life style. It will be an experience.
While it will be sometime before you get to open your own small and perfectly formed restaurant, be patient. Your desire to cook to cook will not wane and your enthusiasm will be rewarded.
In short you have to be aware how to prepare the undercoat as well as being able to perfect the finish. Enjoy working in every single kitchen you find yourself in, soak up the knowledge and don’t ever be scared of your own shadow.
Jennifer Bracken: Women’s Equality Party (Leeds)
I spent my teenage years extremely concerned with what people thought of me. I was petrified of embarrassing myself, of someone finding out that I didn’t know what I was doing, of failing. There was also A LOT of thinking about boys – mainly snogging Alex Spencer down Victoria Park for three hours straight whilst my parents thought I was revising.
Here’s some advice that I’d want my younger self to take, even though she’d be too busy over-straightening her hair and worrying about whether her denim crop top made her look fat to pay any attention (NB: Nineties fashion was the best).
Women tend to suffer from imposter syndrome; more so than men. Spoiler: no one actually knows what they are doing, and everyone is just making it up as they go along. Don’t spend time worrying about whether people like you, take your space in the world and live unapologetically. You deserve your success.
Get involved in politics - we need more female voices in Parliament. Politics sometimes gets a bad rep, but it all boils down to how people live their lives. It matters. Start talking to people about the things that matter to you, and expose yourself to different lives, viewpoints, and experiences. Never feel that your voice isn’t needed.
If the options available aren’t good enough, make your own. Keep fighting. You can change things for the better simply by refusing to accept the status quo.
Don’t get frustrated the first time you trip, or by slow progress. It’s a long road but you don’t have to walk it alone. Find others to walk alongside. As the saying goes, never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
Hannah Bateman: Leading soloist at Northern Ballet
To my seven year-old self I’d have to say, ‘relax, try and enjoy being a Sprite for the First Horsell Brownies and remember you don’t have to completely fill up your sash with badges in a desperate need to please’.
To my 13-year-old self – ‘it’s absolutely fine that you feel completely overwhelmed 90 per cent of the time and can’t work out why all your friends look like women and you still look like you did when you were seven. It will all work out and until then have pride in your love of school, learning and being a member of every club going. You might not be cool but embrace it’.
To my 18-year-old self I would just say, ‘hang in there, it gets so much better in about a year and having a decent Plan B is for your parents’ peace of mind too’. Mostly though I’d say, spend time with just you, do what brings you joy, surround yourself with people that bring out the best in you, be honest and as it turns out your Mum was right all along!
(PS Don’t eat that chicken sandwich three hours before opening night of Dangerous Liaisons, it will take you three days to recover and it won’t be pretty…).
Syima Aslam: Artistic director of Bradford Literature Festival
The worldwide political climate has made me think about fear; our own, that of others, how we react to it and how we internalise it. So while I am sure there is plenty of advice I could give my younger self, my message is for my daughter, Tayyibah - don’t live in fear. Don’t be afraid of the world around you or the people in it. Don’t internalise the fears of others and make them your own. Most of all, don’t be afraid of yourself and your own potential.
Be brave enough to, believe in yourself, recognise your self-worth and trust your instincts. Take advice but remember no one else, is living your reality or, is aware of your internal landscape. Have the courage to go against the grain and take leaps of faith.
Don’t live a life full of regrets for the things you didn’t do and the chances you didn’t take. Things won’t always go the way you planned, you will make mistakes and you will fall over. The important thing is to pick yourself back up, and not to be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
Try to learn from your mistakes rather than regretting them; you made the best decision for you based on what you knew at the time, and few decisions are future proof. Life isn’t a straight line but the curves in the road are a lesson, sometimes it just takes time to see it.
Life is too short to be spent chasing after things you don’t believe in, and aren’t passionate about. Make a career out of your passions and you will never dread your work, or feel that you are wasting your life. Kindness and goodness are enduring human traits and they need an open mind.
Find your own moral compass so that you don’t end up walking in a direction that isn’t truly yours. In the words of Shakespeare, “To thine own self be true”.
Kitty North: Landscape painter
Hindsight is wonderful and life too short, so my first piece of advice would be to spend more time with the family – grandparents – parents – my own father died at the age of 43. Family help you conquer life’s hurdles with their unconditional love and support.
When choosing subjects to study follow as broad a curriculum as possible including maths and the sciences. Take the opportunity to learn a new language or two – these will broaden your horizons as you travel. – join a debating society or a dramatics society to sharpen your communications skills, seize every opportunity and never ever give up on your dreams.
Discipline yourself to make more effective use of your time. Stay focused yet flexible. Iron sharpens iron so does the conversation of man with friends.And finally, be less selfish, more generous and nurture your friendships. A problem shared is always a problem halved.
Elizabeth Peacock: Former Conservative MP for Batley and Spen
We are now in a new political era but my long-standing campaign to encourage more women to take up positions in public life continues. I regularly ask myself what is the best way to get involved and succeed. Looking back I know the potential pitfalls, but when I ask myself would I really attack the problem differently, the answer is probably not.
Given that, my advice would have to be to those just starting out. We have certainly made progress in recent years, but with the centenary of the first woman, Nancy Astor, to take her seat at Westminster, approaching more remains to be done.
In the last 100 years only 450 women have taken seats at Westminster- I was the 115th woman in 1983 with 22 other women and 627 men. So where to start?
It is doubly difficult for a woman to succeed permanently in either politics or commerce so you will need both planning and determination. In the political arena, be warned, you will have to take on constituency work, the whips and government, as well as maybe a husband, a family and a home often many miles from Westminster. This is a truly Herculean task, but take your time. If you rush at the challenge without planning and structure, you will fail.
Make sure you have some background knowledge of life in industry, teaching, business or a trade union. Experience of another world will act as an insurance because remember the political life can be cruel.
To be able to concentrate on the day job you will need a strong family structure which can withstand the pressures. With careful planning, timing - and some good luck - I think I got the formula about right. Can I suggest, balancing determination with family management and only then going for your goal.
I managed a business and got involved with politics at local level as an activist and waited until my family got to senior school level. I then made an all out attack to get to Westminster, with no holds barred and a steely determination to overcome obstacles on the way – it worked.
I recall once speaking to Sally Kosgei, the then Kenyan High Commissioner in London who had made her career from very rural Kenya. She said ‘that women would never have full equal opportunity until the men had the babies!’In the meantime we must keep striving!
Rachel Reeves: Labour MP Leeds West
Make the most of being young. See the world, go to art galleries, do sport, go to concerts, spend time with friends and make new ones, learn and do new things. Open up your eyes and enjoy every moment.
When you are working hard and bringing up a family lots of other stuff gets crowded out. It’s fulfilling - I love being a mum and doing a big, and sometimes stressful, job, but you wonder what you did with all your spare time before!
Enjoy your freedom and don’t waste it. I think now about all the things I’ll do when I retire but that’s a long way off.... Enjoy life, it’s not a dress rehearsal.