Barbara Taylor Bradford: ‘My mother told me: “Keep your head down and don’t flirt at work”

I was a serious little girl growing up in Leeds and had supportive parents who were instrumental in my success. My mother sold my first story to a children’s magazine when I was 10. My father, an engineer, funded my addiction to taxis when I started working on Fleet Street.

At 16, I started my first job in the typing pool at the Yorkshire Evening Post and became a reporter after secretly slipping stories on to the subs’ desk. I was the only woman in the newsroom. My mother told me: “Keep your head down and don’t flirt at work. Your attitude towards men will dictate their attitude towards you.” The best advice I ever had.

The red-haired rebel Keith Waterhouse took me under his wing at the Yorkshire Evening Post. It was a Tory-owned paper, and he walked the corridors singing The Red Flag.

Peter O’Toole, a fellow reporter, had a real thing for me. He was lanky and dishevelled with acne. I refused to go to the movies with him, but he still edged up to me whenever the newsroom went to the pub. Years later, Keith and I were at an event where the producer Sam Spiegel introduced the star of his new movie. Out walked the most beautiful man I’d ever seen, dressed as Lawrence of Arabia. Keith said: “Don’t you wish you’d gone to the pictures with him now?” I never got over Peter’s transformation.

No man has ever tried to pinch my bottom or lay a hand on me, and they’ve always shown me great respect. There’s a lot of rapists and bad men out there but a lot of decent ones too.

I told Sean Connery he’d have to lose his Glaswegian accent and take elocution lessons if he wanted to be an actor. When he became James Bond, I never got a chance to tell him how wrong I’d been.

The death of my beloved husband Bob [Bradford, an American movie producer] in 2019 was devastating because he hadn’t been ill. We were married for nearly 56 years and together for 58. He had a stroke in the night. His last words were, “I love you.” I’m so glad I told him, “I love you too, darling.” A week later he was gone.

I try not to be a burden to people, I’m too strong and independent for that.

Breaking the sound barrier in a fighter jet was thrilling. I’d wanted to know what it felt like to go faster than the speed of sound. So when I wrote a profile of a jet pilot, I persuaded a US Air Force general to let me fly in one of his planes.

The silliest rumour about me is that I heated the lake at a former home in Connecticut to keep the swans warm. I didn’t. The previous owners did it to stop the swans freezing to death in winter. A good reason.

There’s a lot I don’t like about getting older, but I don’t look my age because I take care of myself. I go to the hairdresser twice a week, don’t smoke, never drink alone and have a personal trainer.