Eileen Wise prepares to see the Tories through the run-up to the
As you read this, Eileen Wise - head of news at the Conservative Party -
will be slap bang in the middle of one of the busiest weeks in her life.
And things are unlikely to slow down much until after next year’s
Wise, 38, has been in the job less than six months. She is managing a
steadily expanding press office, expected to number 50 by spring next
year, and representing a party facing more bad news than good.
So how is she coping? Wise will not comment as it is against party
policy for PR staff to give interviews. However people who know her
believe she is flourishing so far.
But looking back, it seems the recently divorced wife of PR hard man
Brian Basham has never been one to take things easy.. A true darling of
the media, Wise’s career has taken her from entertainment PR with Disney
and The Entertainment Channel in the early 1980s, to national journalism
in the second half of that decade. She has freelanced for Hello!, the
Daily Mail and Media Week and spent a period as deputy diary editor for
the now defunct Today.
The 1990s saw her return to PR, executing the launch of Robert Maxwell’s
European and undertaking personal PR for Andrew Lloyd Webber at the
Really Useful Group.
Wise moved into television, researching documentaries for LWT and the
BBC, before entering the cut-throat arena of party politics.
Some were surprised when Wise took the job at Central Office. Although
she is the daughter of a true blue farmer and chairman of South Suffolk
Conservative Party selection committee, people who’ve worked with Wise
don’t recall her being a party political animal.
It is likely that her interest in politics was sharpened by her 10-year
marriage to Basham - a familiar face during party conference season.
Her time in journalism also brought her into contact with senior
political journalists. These included Charles Lewington, former
political editor at the Sunday Express and Conservative Party director
of communications since January.
Even so there are indications that Wise took some persuading by
Lewington before she took the job. ‘I’d be very surprised if she took it
first off,’ says Andrew Douglas-Jones knowingly, her friend and former
colleague at Disney. He adds: ‘She’s a woman who has to be sure.’
It seems that Lewington was looking for someone with sound knowledge of
the media and PR, rather than partisan credentials and Wise fitted the
bill. After all this is a woman whose contact book needs its own wheels.
Ian Watson editor-in-chief at Richbell NewMedia and former launch editor
of the European thinks she is ideally suited to the position: ‘Eileen
demonstrated during the launch that she is very efficient under fire.
She’s brave and always optimistic.’
Anyone who comes into contact with Wise quickly realises she is also
outstandingly thorough and hard working. ‘She’s exceptionally dedicated
and follows this through in her social life. There’s no line drawn
between work and play,’ says Douglas-Jones.
Ex-husband Basham agrees: ‘She’s absolutely characterised by throwing
herself into her work. He adds candidly: ‘She threw herself into the
divorce proceedings as well.’
An intriguing couple. Wise with her true-blue blood and Basham a strong
republican and often labelled as a ‘champagne socialist’. Were political
differences the reason behind the failure of the 10-year marriage?
Basham, with whom Wise is now on good terms, laughs mischievously: ‘We
were totally incompatible. We went to a marriage guidance counsellor and
after 10 minutes he suggested we get divorced.’
Despite sharing the tabloid experience of her political PR
contemporaries like Lewington and Tony Blair’s press secretary Alastair
Campbell, Wise doesn’t come across as the aggressive doctor of ‘spin’
portrayed by last week’s Panorama.
On the contrary, her former colleagues describe her demeanour as warm,
genuine and amiable. One hopes she can maintain this good humour as her
party prepares for its toughest, and probably most vicious, election
campaign for at least 20 years.
1987 Deputy diary editor, Today
1990 Press officer, launch of the European
1991 PR manager, Really Useful Group
1995 Reasearcher, Crime Monthly
1996 Head of news, Conservative Central Office