As a former head of the Metropolitan Police’s press office, Tessa
Bartholomew has ’been there, done that’ when you talk about tough
At the Met, she recalls the times when she was on call 24 hours a
Think of any major terrorist threat or high profile police issue in the
last decade and Bartholomew was involved.
In PR terms, Bartholomew’s new role as communications supremo for the
South East England Regional Assembly is in its own way equally
At the Met she headed a team of 30. In her new job she is the PR
The regional assembly she has to promote may be the biggest in England,
but it suffers from indifference and widespread public confusion as to
exactly why it is there in the first place. ’To be completely honest,
even I haven’t formed an opinion as to whether regional assemblies will
work. But I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think it would be a massive
challenge’ says Bartholomew.
To recap, the assembly covers eight million people in an area from the
Isle of Wight up to Oxfordshire and across to the Kent North Sea
coast.Part of the image problem she has to tackle is that the assembly
is made up of 111 nominated ’worthies’. Two-thirds come from the local
authority circuit and one-third from a range of people in the community.
There is no direct election from the public. So there is not the cut and
thrust of political accountability and indeed there is no cast-iron
commitment to electable English assemblies by the Government. The
assembly meets three times a year. It also competes for attention with
bodies like the South East England Development Agency, the region’s
Westminster MPs, local councils and Euro MPs.
The assembly as a whole is run on less than pounds 500,000 a year and
the communications budget is a fraction of that, says Bartholomew.
According to Bartholomew she has been brought in with ’virtually a blank
sheet of paper’. Her main role is to ’create a credible voice for the
region’. She will also look at recruiting and whether or not to bring in
agencies and a cuttings service and she will embark on networking with
the local authority PROs.
Her boss, assembly director Paul Bevan says: ’It is the start of
significant communications investment. We can make policies all we like,
but if we don’t communicate them to the public it will be a waste of
’Tessa has unique challenges. One of the difficulties is that there is
not one single medium in this region which covers all our needs.We are
pleased with the energy and imagination that she brings. The big issues
are planning and the debate about building thousands of extra houses,
also the issue of transport infrastructure.’
Bartholomew is warming to her new role because of what she calls a
’refreshing, ’can-do’ attitude in a small, relatively new,
organisation’. However she can at once see similarities with the
’There is a huge learning curve on subject matter. Everyone here speaks
in code and using acronyms. It was the same at the Met!’ However she
does concede that, ’some of the subject matter was sexier and more
exciting at the Met’.
Bartholomew grew up in Zimbabwe, where she studied journalism at Rhodes
University. ’It is sad and tragic what is happening to farmers out
there, I went to school with some of their daughters,’ she
She moved to England in her early-twenties and began as an account
executive at GCI Sterling and then ABS Communications. She then joined
the South London Guardian group of local papers and by 1991 became chief
It was contact with police calls that lead to her move to join the force
as an information officer. She moved up the ranks and was head of news
from 1997 to 1999.
During her career with the police, Bartholomew dealt with the Stephen
Lawrence inquiry, the Met’s anti-corruption strategy and serious crimes
like the ’Mardi Gras’ bomber and the Docklands bombing.
Former senior police colleague, Barbara Wilding, currently head of
personnel, says: ’We will miss her very much. She was very responsible
and good at managing the national media. Cool in kidnapping situations,
when it matters to get the victim back alive and well.’
’Tessa is very loyal, committed, hard-working and gets to know her
subject very well. She is serious, but with a sense of fun’, said Jackie
Harris, current head of publicity at the Met.
While Bartholomew is unlikely to be on call 24 hours for the South East
England Regional Assembly, building the profile of the fledgling body is
set to test her communications skills in ways that the Met press office
1990: Chief reporter, South London Guardian Group
1997: Head of news, Met Police
2000: Head of comms, South East Regional Assembly.