FOR 40 years she has been a shoulder for the nation to cry on.
And as The Sun’s beloved agony aunt Deidre Sanders steps down from the day-to-day running of her page to enjoy a well-deserved retirement, it marks the end of an era.
But Britain’s No1 agony column will continue, edited from January 1 by Sun journalist and trained counsellor Sally Land.
Here, both women write their own, very personal letters to our readers.
I TRULY believe that being the agony aunt of The Sun is a wonderful privilege. It is one of the most rewarding and worthwhile jobs in the country — and I can’t think of one I’d have wanted more in all of journalism.
One massively important ingredient that makes editing The Sun’s problem page so outstanding is that the paper supports an answering service staffed by a wonderful team with counselling training.
Every problem sent into us, whether by email, Facebook private-message or (more rarely these days) by post, receives a personal reply — and often several personal replies over the course of weeks, months or years as we help readers resolve serious personal difficulties, relationship or sexual problems and family dilemmas.
As far as I know, ours is the only problem page still doing this. Decades ago, when even I was a young journalist, it was normal practice. But most magazine and newspaper publishers took the axe to their answering services long ago. But not at The Sun — and my heart bursts with pride over this.
We have such a strong bond with you, our readers, that the answering service has been protected and continues. In response, literally millions of you have entrusted me with your problems, heartbreaks and joys. The count is somewhere between six and seven million messages over the past 40 years.
Now that the moment has arrived for me to take a step back, I am confident Sally is absolutely the right person to be taking on this role. I have known her for nearly two decades as she rose to senior roles on The Sun.
Sally was so interested in the workings of the problem page and the answering service that, years ago, she took the time, and a train out of London, to come to my office, meet the team and see how we work. She showed an even deeper interest by training in counselling.
Sally understands how to create an interesting page — because there is no point in an agony column that no one wants to read — but also the importance of providing genuine support behind the scenes and the extent to which the page has a role signposting readers to the support available.
Here I want to give a special salute to Laura Collins, who dreamed up Deidre’s Photo Casebook nearly 30 years ago. I was against the idea, at first, for “cheapening” the column. But I was so wrong.
Its salty humour and wide-ranging appeal pulls in readers to the newspaper page and online who wouldn’t have previously identified as agony column readers but who can’t help picking up important messages, such as that it’s OK to admit you have a problem and seek help.
The Photo Casebook is a mental health pioneer in entertaining guise, as is the problem page itself. It’s a hugely responsible job Sally is taking on but immensely rewarding.
I am sure she will provide as enthusiastic a service to you, our very special readers, as I have tried to over the decades.
Love to you all,
1980: APPOINTED agony aunt of The Sun, taking over the weekly column.
1982: Books Kitchen Sink Or Swim? – The Choices Facing Women and 101 Questions About Sex are published.
1984: Women And Depression – A Practical Self-help Guide printed.
1985: The Woman Book Of Love And Sex – a survey of 10,000 women – appears.
1987: Column made daily while Deidre is pregnant with her second daughter. The Woman Report On Men – a survey of 5,000 men – is published.
1994: Deidre becomes a member of the National Commission of Inquiry into the Prevention of Child Abuse. It is set up by the NSPCC to consider the ways children are harmed, how to prevent it, and recommend a national strategy for reducing it.
1997: Founder patron of National Association for People Abused in Childhood.
2008: Launches five-year campaign of 25 agony aunts for better understanding and support for children, called Kids In The Middle. It is set up to help children of parents with relationship problems or who are suffering breakdown.
2009: The Government gives £3million extra funding towards relationship support for parents and children in troubled families. Deidre appointed member of the Social Work Taskforce to transform social work.
2016: Joins ITV’s This Morning as its regular agony aunt.
2020: Backs the all-party Sort It Out Parliamentary campaign for increased relationship support for parents.
MPs AND TELLY STARS PRAISE OUR CARING, SENSIBLE, BIG-HEARTED AUNTIE
THIS Morning TV host Phillip Schofield said: “I wonder how many people Deidre has helped over the years? I’m thinking, ‘Far too many to count’.
“As a vital part of the nation’s mental health and relationship issues, she has been at the heart of The Sun for as long as I can remember. Only when she joined our team on This Morning did I get to know the deeply kind, caring, sensitive woman she is.
“It was no easy task to step into the gap left by our beloved Denise Robertson but she did it with gentle grace. Her advice goes far beyond what you see on TV. As with Denise, Deidre is no ‘showbiz’ agony aunt. Her care continues with our callers long after the help given ‘on air’. She will phone them back and offer her careful advice privately when the cameras stop rolling.
“This is advice not just for viewers but with the This Morning presenting team too! She is a wonderful friend to us all and regularly checks in with me saying, ‘I just wanted to make sure you’re OK’, and, ‘I’m always here if you need me’.”
Telly colleague Eamonn Holmes joked: “Deidre – most people are heartbroken you are leaving your advice column on The Sun. But I see it as a wonderful opportunity to offer you my service! As you know, over the years I’ve given you a lot and taught you a lot.
“I’ve given you advice on the answers you should really give people. It’ll be called Eamonn Tells It Straight. Seriously, I know Sun readers will miss you very much. But we’re delighted we’re not losing you from This Morning.”
Ruth Langsford, Eamonn’s wife and co-host, added: “One of the funniest days we’ve ever had was with you, Deidre, doing a photo casebook with our TV ‘son’ Rylan (Clark-Neal).
“Eamonn had to get up close and personal with a scantily clad lady who fell for him. Unfortunately, she happened to be our son’s girlfriend. So the dilemma for Eamonn was would he leave me, his wife, for this beautiful babe. We had such fun. We are sorry you are giving up your page but are so lucky you are staying with us on TV a little longer.”
Telly favourite and Sun columnist Lorraine Kelly said: “Deidre has been the nation’s big-hearted, sensible auntie giving common-sense advice and helping millions of people in need. She’s full of empathy and kindness and will be sorely missed.”
Former Labour politician and ex-Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls said: “No one can know how many people Deidre has helped over the many years she has written her brilliant column. It’s very many thousands.
“But the Deidre I know won’t think about it like that. Every letter she writes to ease the dilemma and worry of one individual correspondent is special, important and personal to them. I worked closely with Deidre when I was Minister for Children, Schools and Families. Together, we injected new funding into the Kids In The Middle campaign to help children caught in messy separations and divorces.
“She was an expert member of the social work taskforce following the tragic death of Baby P. And we met regularly when we gathered together the nation’s agony aunts to discuss how we could do more to support families.
“In every meeting, Deidre’s knowledge, passion and determination really shone through. So, from me and on behalf of all those people and families she has helped over 40 years, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you Dear Deidre.”
The Sun’s royal photographer Arthur Edwards said: “Deidre and I were sent to Sri Lanka a few months after she and her family narrowly escaped tragedy when the Boxing Day tsunami smashed through their hotel in 2004. Deidre interviewed a fisherman and his family living in a Red Cross tent on the beach next to her hotel.
“This is why Deidre is so special. On her return, she rang round all her friends and asked them to dig deep into their pockets to help this desperate family. Not surprisingly, they all gladly coughed up.
“She then found a charity to build them a three-bedroom brick house on their land. We went back a year later, when the family had moved in. The tears flowed. It was the best Christmas story ever – and all thanks to our most famous agony aunt.”
Dame Moira Gibb, chair of Skills For Care and former chair of the social-work taskforce, said: “I first met Deidre in 2009 when she was appointed to be a member of the taskforce set up after the sad death of Baby P. I learned a huge amount from her about the work of agony aunts. The sheer professionalism of her work – invisible to most readers – is incredibly impressive.
“Her concern for and interest in human beings in difficulty came across to me as deep and genuine. Her work helps many, many more people than just the writers of the letters published. The quality of the advice based on considerable research is high. I found Deidre to be a very modest individual who has quietly done a great deal of good in the world. She was brave, thoughtful and a pleasure to work with.”
Tory MP Andrew Selous, chair of the all-party parliamentary group for strengthening couple relationships and reducing interparental conflict, said: “Deidre is not only a much-loved national institution, she also cares deeply about the people who raise relationship issues with her.
“She follows up individually with her team and always does all she can to help. She has a great gift for telling it as it is and will be much missed. I hope she will continue to be a champion for these issues after she steps down.”
Baroness Claire Tyler, former chief executive of the counselling service Relate, said: “It was such a huge privilege and pleasure to work with Deidre on the high-profile Kids In The Middle campaign when I was CEO of Relate. I quickly came to admire and respect her unparalleled compassion, commitment and determination to help relieve the very real distress of children caught up in the middle of high levels of damaging parental conflict.
“It was a real eye-opener to see the sheer professionalism, expertise and wisdom with which Deidre and her team responded to all the letters she received. I vividly remember high-level, face-to-face meetings with senior politicians including Secretaries of State – and indeed, meeting then-PM David Cameron for a briefing at 10 Downing Street. We would quite simply never have got that sort of access without Deidre.”
Jeremy Todd, chief executive of Family Lives, said: “Deidre is a person of huge integrity, who cares deeply about the work she does, its impact and support for others. As the nation’s most recognisable agony aunt, she has worked with charities over many years and my involvement with her spans a decade with Family Lives, for whom she is a patron.
“Deidre has a very clear understanding of the issues that affect families and vulnerable individuals, and provides accessible, excellent advice to those who contact her through her column and TV work. She has made such a difference to so many and I remain very grateful to have met and worked alongside her.”
Meet our new agony aunt Sally
I KNOW you will all feel a keen sense of sadness to learn Deidre is retiring from The Sun. After all, she has provided us with unwavering support and entertainment in equal measure for more than 40 years.
Deidre’s genuine compassion stretches well beyond the reach of the newspaper pages. In the 20 years we have known each other, I’ve witnessed her go the extra mile for readers, colleagues and causes she believes in.
From the most senior editors to the greenest juniors — everyone knows that they can trust Deidre with their problems. So of course, while I am incredibly excited to be taking on what I know is one of the very best jobs in Fleet Street, I am also fully aware of the huge responsibility that comes with it.
I wanted to become a journalist because I love meeting different people. And having spent 16 years on The Sun interviewing everyone from Samantha Cameron and Joanna Lumley to female prisoners with their young children, each and every interview was a proper privilege.
‘We could not do it without you’
The Sun is absolutely one of the best campaigning newspapers. When it comes to battling for better standards and rights for our readers, I believe there is no more powerful news outlet in the whole country.
It is for this reason — ensuring the most vulnerable and those people least able to fight for themselves have support and a voice — that I am most excited to receive the baton passed on by Deidre. The Dear Deidre page has a brilliant team of trained counsellors who regularly go above and beyond, researching solutions and delivering sound support for readers who are struggling with all manner of issues.
Absolutely nothing fazes them. They help the desperate down from the edge, support warring couples, navigate dog ownership and, of course, happily recommend the best techniques to get any floundering sex life back on steamy track. There really is no issue too big, too small or too embarrassing, and I have spent the past couple of months reading every single email, letter and message you have sent.
But we could not do it without you, our brilliant readers — each and every one of you who reaches out for help, wants to improve their marriage or relationship with children, heal family wounds, understand why a partner no longer wants to be with them, hopes to kick a destructive habit and, in short, improve their lives. We are truly honoured to be invited into your world.
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So a huge thank you to Deidre for entrusting me with her baby. I understand how precious you, the readers, all are and I will take the utmost care. As always, stay in touch. We are here to help.
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