It’s hard to imagine a more stressful and driven world than the one where Eileen Wise spent much of her working life.
Top-level public relations is a high-powered unforgiving place. To succeed, as she did, you need not only talent but nerves of steel.
Clients may be celebrities, politicians, or massive global companies – all desperate to polish their image, blast out the good news, and bury the bad.
Get it wrong and there will be hell to pay
For decades Eileen’s life was frenetic. She was head of media for the Tory party, managed publicity for Andrew Lloyd Webber, and worked for major news and publishing empires.
But everything changed when she quit her last job as head of global public relations for Reuters newsagency, went back to university, and emerged a qualified counsellor.
“It’s a massive change from what I used to do,” she says. “It’s almost like a different world.
“I loved my career and worked very hard. At first I felt withdrawal symptoms ... but only for a few weeks.
“I’m a very different person now from how I was 10 years ago when I was working in a very fast-paced, mad environment.”
But a change of pace was not the only reason for her decision.
Watching her mother battle depression left her with a lifelong respect for the power of counselling.
And many years before making it her career she trained to be a Samaritan.
Now her workplace is a cosy consulting room in her cottage near Cavendish – a stone’s throw from her childhood home – that she shares with her partner, author and ex-BBC journalist Roger Hermiston.
Inside, clients are likely to be greeted by two more members of the family, cats Milton and Garby.
Outside is a paddock where pony Stanley and Yollo the donkey graze on lush grass. Beyond that, rolling fields.
The pets may soon play a bigger part in her work because she hopes at some stage to practice animal-assisted therapy.
And the rural setting means people can choose to talk over their problems during a stroll through the countryside.
Eileen, an ex-pupil of Sudbury Upper School, started her PR career as a press officer at London store Selfridges after persuading her boss she was not too young to do the job. “I did fashion, and some wonderful book signings with people like Harold Wilson, Muhammed Ali, and Joan Collins,” she says.
“I went on to be a press officer for Walt Disney, which was very exciting.”
In the early 1980s she moved to New York and supplemented her PR work with business journalism before returning to London.
Later she moved into the glossy world of musical theatre managing publicity for Andrew Lloyd Webber.
“At the time he had five musicals on in the West End, and three on Broadway. It was fascinating,” she says.
“But I had always wanted to work in TV, and after quite a long time looking, I got a job as a researcher.”
Her TV work was mostly documentaries, but included a spell on Surprise, Surprise with Cilla Black.
One job, for Crime Monthly, included a real-life gruesome drama when officers she was shadowing for an piece about speeding were diverted to the scene of a triple gangland killing.
Then came another key move. “I was always a bit nerdy about politics – I’d take time off to go to the party conferences.
“A journalist I knew became director of communications for the Tory party, and asked me to join them as head of media.
“I wasn’t sure because I didn’t know my way around the corridors of Westminster.
“But I did the job for 18 months in the run-up to the 1997 General Election. The hours were gruelling – 6am to midnight seven days a week – but it was a fascinating job.”
The Tories, led by John Major, went on to a crashing defeat but Eileen shares most people’s view that it was inevitable.
“They had been in power for such a long while it was time for a change,“ she says.
“I was learning on my feet and found it quite intimidating at first because I was working with the people who run the country.
“Some ministers were difficult and unforgiving and others really supportive. Michael Portillo once finished a press release for me while I got on with answering the phone.
Eileen was head-hunted by the publishers of Cosmopolitan and Harpers and Queen, then went on to the job she probably enjoyed the most – seven years doing PR for The Economist magazine – before joining Reuters.
She started counselling two years ago as a volunteer for Suffolk Mind – she still does unpaid work with students at West Suffolk College - before starting her own practice this year.
n She can be contacted through her website, www.wisecounselling.co.uk and by phone on 07712 674040.