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SARAH VINE: Declare work friendships to your boss? They should mind their own business


There’s always someone who spoils it for everyone else, isn’t there?

Following Phil Schofield’s ‘unwise but not illegal’ relationship with a much younger colleague, ITV has issued new guidelines demanding staff (including freelancers, consultants, contractors and even those on work experience) declare any friendships or relationships with colleagues — or face the sack.

I can see the logic. The Schofield scandal exposed a very unsavoury, some might say sordid, culture of favouritism within the organisation — an atmosphere wholly at odds with the wholesome, happy-go-lucky image cultivated by its producers and presenters.

It has blown a hole in its reputation and ratings, and so it is taking steps to try to repair that trust.

But still. The idea that staff will have to ‘declare’ their relationships to their bosses, as though being mates with someone at work were some grubby little piece of contraband, strikes me as a bit of an overreaction. It’s also rather sad.

Following Phil Schofield’s ‘unwise but not illegal’ relationship with a much younger colleague, ITV has issued new guidelines demanding staff declare any friendships or relationships with colleagues

Following Phil Schofield’s ‘unwise but not illegal’ relationship with a much younger colleague, ITV has issued new guidelines demanding staff declare any friendships or relationships with colleagues

If people worry their job might be in jeopardy, they will think twice about striking up friendships with colleagues. It will create an atmosphere of distrust and paranoia, one that will inevitably translate into a more sterile — and, by definition, less creative — work environment.

After all, ITV is in the business of showbusiness: touchy-feely, air-kissy, luvviness. It is all about chemistry, on and off screen. You want people to get on. And you can’t do that if the dead eye of the HR department is watching you.

If I think back on my own career, my best and most treasured friendships have begun in the office. My three most loyal girlfriends — women who have supported and stood by me through some very difficult times — are all people I met at various stages on the shop floor.

One is a bestselling novelist whose articles I used to edit; another was a fellow columnist who now works for the civil service; another is a hugely successful editor.

I’ve known these women for nigh on a quarter-century, and if someone told me I had to ‘declare’ our friendship, I’d tell them to mind their own sodding business (only not quite so politely).

As for romance, well. . . half the teenagers I know wouldn’t exist if their parents hadn’t got together at work. In the days before the internet, that was how people met: in the office, or through colleagues.

I should know: my former husband and I were colleagues long before we married — although, oddly, our paths never crossed in the office before we met in person.

Back in the late 1990s, a young Michael Gove was Comment Editor on The Times — where I also worked, on the Arts desk (covering film, theatre, that sort of thing).

After all, ITV is in the business of showbusiness: touchy-feely, air-kissy, luvviness

After all, ITV is in the business of showbusiness: touchy-feely, air-kissy, luvviness

I knew of him, of course, having read his articles — but I didn’t actually know him. The Times was a very hierarchical place back then, and humble arts scribes didn’t really mingle with the demi-gods of the Comment desk.

Until a mutual friend invited us both on a skiing trip. It wasn’t until after I had agreed to go that I found out Michael was also going.

And so I had the bizarre experience of meeting the man I would go on to marry and have two lovely children with in the French Alps before I’d exchanged even a single word with him in the office.

And the friend who brought us together? Robert Hardman, of this parish, still a very dear colleague.

Truth is, work relationships can be very special indeed. They can be life-changing and, in many cases, last a lifetime.

And while very occasionally there are those that, like Schofield’s, turn out to be ‘unwise but not illegal’, the vast majority are hugely positive.

It would be a tragedy if, because of a few bad ‘uns, they ended up consigned to the bin of history.

Who’ll save tragic Britney? 

The tragedy of Britney Spears — whose auto-biography, The Woman In Me, was published yesterday — is that none of her heartbreaking revelations comes as a surprise. She had an abortion after getting pregnant by Justin Timberlake (he later dumped her by text); she had to publicly fight for joint custody of her children; and her own father used her as a cash cow.

The tragedy of Britney Spears — whose auto-biography, The Woman In Me, was published yesterday — is that none of her heartbreaking revelations comes as a surprise

The tragedy of Britney Spears — whose auto-biography, The Woman In Me, was published yesterday — is that none of her heartbreaking revelations comes as a surprise

Britney could so easily have been another Madonna or Taylor Swift; instead, she’s literally playing with knives for clicks. Is there no one willing to help her — before it’s too late?

It’s a flat no from me 

Among the tide of spam that washes into my inbox is a message entreating me to invest in ‘luxury student accommodation’ located ‘within the brand-new Health Innovation Campus at the University of Huddersfield, offering a secure and income-generating investment opportunity’ which apparently can offer up to 8 per cent net returns. This rings a bell.

Wasn’t it a ‘luxury’ student complex in Huddersfield that last month booted out more than 150 undergraduates, who had already signed tenancy agreements, in favour of housing 400 asylum-seekers for the Home Office? Indeed it was. What a farce. I’m out!

Sad to see that the world’s oldest dog, Bobi, has died. He was 31, which would make him 217 in ‘dog years’. My dog, Muffin is coming up to eight, a mere 56 in dog years — and coincidentally the same age as me. No wonder we get on so well: just two middle-aged bitches! 

Sarah Vine's dog, Muffin, is coming up to eight, a mere 56 in dog years — and coincidentally the same age as her

Sarah Vine’s dog, Muffin, is coming up to eight, a mere 56 in dog years — and coincidentally the same age as her

A vital lesson for schools on parents’ rights 

Thank God the Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, is brooking no nonsense when it comes to parents’ rights to access sex education material in schools.

I remember when my kids were being shown this stuff: none of us parents had a clue what was in it — nor would the school tell us.

Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, is brooking no nonsense when it comes to parents’ rights to access sex education material in schools

Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, is brooking no nonsense when it comes to parents’ rights to access sex education material in schools

I was made to feel a nuisance for even asking — and yet I was the one who had to deal with the questions it inevitably stirred. How much worse must it be for parents these days, with all the woke nonsense being shoved down children’s throats about there being hundreds of genders?

For once, I’m glad mine are grown-up.

First it was South Park, now Family Guy has had a pop at ‘work-shy grifters’ the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. As the couple sit by the pool at their Montecito mansion, a butler proffers a wad of cash to Harry, saying: ‘Sir, your millions from Netflix for. . . no one knows what.’ ‘Put it with the rest,’ replies Harry airily. Genius. There’s one box left to tick: a cameo on The Simpsons. If it’s good enough for Mick Jagger…

In the latest blow to the electric-vehicle industry, some insurers are refusing cover because of the risks and complexity of fixing the vehicles’ highly flammable lithium batteries.

The metal burns at 2,000c, making it virtually impossible for any typical fire crew to extinguish. Might it have been a good idea to establish the risks before investing so much money in this technology? Or were manufacturers and politicians both so blinded by the dollar signs that they decided to look the other way?



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