PROFILE: Tessa Bartholomew, South East England Regional Assembly - Police woman takes her PR to the streets. Former Met PR chief Tessa Bartholomew faces a unique new challenge

As a former head of the Metropolitan Police’s press office, Tessa Bartholomew has ’been there, done that’ when you talk about tough jobs.

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

could not.


1990: Chief reporter, South London Guardian Group

1997: Head of news, Met Police

2000: Head of comms, South East Regional Assembly.

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