Male presenters don’t suffer the same scrutiny, but Derbyshire prefers not to rail against gender inequities. Nor does she agree that the BBC’s presentation of current affairs is tilted too much towards men.
“As a viewer, or listener, I just want someone with experience, someone I trust. I always cite Andrew Neil as a presenter I admire, and Kirsty Wark, too, for the forensic quality of their interviewing. Of course, it’s important that what we see on TV reflects the country in which we live. The BBC can do better at that. But it has made massive strides. I can’t imagine, now, someone like me losing my job because I was considered too old.”
Derbyshire adds the famously pugnacious John Humphrys to the list of interviewers she respects, but insists she is no rottweiler herself. “The main thing for me is to listen carefully. Be respectful, but if you’re listening carefully, not just to the words but also the tone, you can sometimes pick up on things they’re not saying.”
However she defines her style, four years ago it greatly unsettled Kenneth Clarke when, while Justice Secretary, he got into an almighty twist on her radio programme trying, clumsily, to categorise different degrees of seriousness with regard to rape. Far from letting him off the hook, she helped to impale him. And a year earlier Derbyshire was similarly dogged in her cross-examination of her own boss, 5 Live controller Adrian Van Klaveren, when asking him on air why he wasn’t prepared to move with the station to Salford.
She admits that having resisted the move to Salford herself, she risked the accusation of double standards: “I was obviously open to a hypocrisy charge. If you say the controller should lead by example, you could say a presenter should, too. But I’d been working there since 1998, and nobody asked me to move. He was new, and there was an expectation that the new boss would go.”
Like Van Klaveren, Derbyshire didn’t want to uproot her family. She and Sandell and their sons live in Middlesex, where, she says, she is neither overly strict nor excessively liberal as a parent. “But I am really into manners and politeness. I hate it when kids don’t say please and thank you. When they say, ‘Can I have a drink?’ Mine wouldn’t, ever. But of course it’s not the kids’ faults. It’s down to their parents. And it’s so simple, so obvious.”
Away from work she pursues an uneventful life, taking the boys to football, watching thrillers on TV (Fortitude is her current favourite), “and Graham Norton for light relief. I also love going to antiques markets.”
The family’s domestic harmony, Derbyshire concedes, has been disrupted in the past 12 months by Sandell’s sacking by the BBC following claims of bullying and sexual harassment. He successfully appealed against his dismissal and is now back at work. “It has been pretty stressful but we have moved on. We’re fine,” she says.
But does she still feel cross with the BBC about it? “Only because of the time it took. It took a long time.”