Listen to this article
Sue Bailey, 63, is a consultant child and adolescent forensic psychiatrist with Greater Manchester West Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust. President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, she was made a dame in the New Year Honours list.
What was your earliest ambition?
When I was a teenager, we lived opposite the medical superintendent of what would then have been the local asylum. I got involved and started visiting. He took me to exciting places like Broadmoor, and I thought, “This is really interesting.”
Public school or state school? University or straight into work?
Alexandra Park, Oldham, a good state school in an area of high deprivation. I was lucky – I not only had clean clothes, I had new clothes. Working in Strangeways, I ended up meeting three classmates on the other side of the desk. Then a scholarship to Oldham Hulme Grammar. We moved to London so I went to Watford Grammar for a bit but I wanted to go back north and got into the University of Manchester medical school.
Who was or still is your mentor?
I’ve had a variety. I’ve always known who to phone.
Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?
Both, but other things matter as well.
Have you ever taken an IQ test?
Not knowingly but probably several times. I live in the certain knowledge that I’m not overly bright but I’ve never seen that as a handicap. It’s about making the best of what you have.
How politically committed are you?
Hugely. I believe passionately in the democratic process. I’ve been actively involved in children’s and mental health legislation. The Health and Social Care Act fell into my lap: we wanted parity of esteem between mental and physical health – and we got it.
I believe in working with politicians. It’s not about being aligned, it’s how you can change things in a democratic society.
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
A really nice garden fountain. And I would like to support teachers so school exclusions never happen. School exclusion is the tipping point to a downward spiral for lots of children.
What’s your biggest extravagance?
My best treat is what I call my Sunday-morning syndrome, with my eight-year-old grandson – often the cinema. I know more about Jedi warriors than I need to know.
What ambitions do you still have?
To be a full-time lobbyist. I’ve realised late on that you have to go in and lobby – with passion, experience and knowledge.
What drives you on?
I was brought up with a work ethic. I come from a long line of intelligent women who were never able to fulfil that intelligence – they’d pass the exam to grammar school but couldn’t afford to go, or had to look after family. And my lifespan won’t see the mental health sector anywhere near sorted.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
Giving birth to my babies and seeing my grandchildren born. Gaining parity in that legislation I mentioned earlier – this wasn’t me alone, but a lot of people.
What has been your greatest disappointment?
I think if we professionals had been sharper, the amounts of money that went into cancer research would also have gone into mental health.
If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would she think?
She’d be quite surprised. As a student, I was middle-road capable.
If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?
I hope I’d get up and get on with it.
Do you believe in an afterlife?
I am totally uncertain.
If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?