SW Review of the Year

FROM Hillary Clinton, Carla Bruni and Sarah Brown to Wendy Alexander, Sarah Palin and Madonna Joyce McMillan chooses her leading ladies and femmes fatales of the year just past.


Hillary Clinton

She's adored by her supporters and reviled by her opponents, but there's no denying the guts and stamina Hillary Clinton showed this year in her historic contest with Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination in the US Presidential election. There was a time, a decade ago, when Hillary could have been accused of using her status as First Lady to claim a public role she had not earned. But as a Senator, as candidate in this year's astonishing nomination race, and now as Barack Obama's chosen Secretary of State, she has shown time and again that she has the right stuff to make it on her own account; with or without her partner, ex-President Bill.

Sarah Brown

If there was one moment that seemed to signal the beginning of Gordon Brown's political recovery this autumn, it was that surprising split second, early in September, when the Prime Minister's wife stepped up to the microphone at the Labour Party Conference in Manchester to introduce her man to the faithful. Currently a full-time wife and mother, Sarah Macaulay was a formidable public relations consultant before her marriage; and now she has become a genuine heroine to those who admire her restrained, publicity-shy style, her determination to protect her children from the cameras, and the way she has transformed family tragedy into a powerful commitment to the cause of children's health and wellbeing.

Carla Sarkozy

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In a fine year for first ladies, the former model and actress Carla Sarkozy was the one who broke the mould. In March, she accompanied her new husband on a state visit to Britain and unleashed an astonishing tidal wave of drooling coverage from the middle-aged male ranks of the British press. Later in the year, in her ongoing c areer as a singer-songwriter, she released a wistful and well-received new album, said that she found monogamy difficult and protested against the racist "jokes" of Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi. Some women have problems with gorgeous and flirtatious types like Carla, yet she is an enemy to every kind of sexual double-standard and a subversive force to be reckoned with.

Selina Scott

It takes a brave female broadcaster to draw public attention to the fact that she is 57 years old. But when the lovely Selina Scott was bumped from a job she had previously been offered, as maternity cover for Natasha Kaplinsky on Channel 5 News, she boldly took up the legal cudgels on behalf of all those older women who find themselves quietly removed from our television screens, while their male contemporaries continue to broadcast well into a jowly and wrinkled old age. In early December, Channel 5 agreed to pay Scott 250,000 in compensation. But did she get the job back? Did she heck.

Susan Rice

At a time of meltdown in British banking, Susan Rice of Lloyds TSB seems like a rock of calm amid the chaos. Originally from Rhode Island in the US, Rice is married to Duncan Rice, Vice-Chancellor of Aberdeen University and has lived in Aberdeen with her family since 1996. In 2000, she became Chief Executive of Lloyds TSB Scotland, the first woman ever to head a British clearing bank. And, after an exemplary career as a senior banker with a profound sense of social and cultural responsibility – she is chair of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, among other public commitments – she is now about to take on a uniquely controversial role, as head of the newly merged Lloyds TSB/HBOS in Scotland.

AL Kennedy

In the past year, Dundee-born writer Alison Kennedy has struck gold with her powerful 2007 novel, Day, a searching and beautiful study of the generation who survived the Second World War. In January, Day won the UK-wide Costa Prize, emerging as winner of winners across all five categories. During the year, Kennedy continued her second career as a stand-up comic, with a series of appearances at the Edinburgh Fringe and elsewhere. When Kennedy first decided to have a go at stand-up, it seemed likely to be a brief experiment. But Kennedy has stuck it out, in one of the toughest of all performing disciplines; she also remains one of the sharpest political commentators around.

Rebecca Adlington and Ellie Simmonds

Among sportswomen, Rebecca Adlington, 19, and Ellie Simmonds, 14, were the iconic twin faces of Britain's success at the Beijing Olympics 2008, where the British team came fourth in the medals table in the main summer Olympics, and second in the Paralympics. Rebecca, a down-to-earth "golden girl" from Mansfield in Nottinghamshire, won swimming gold in the 400 and 800 metres freestyle, and ran Chris Hoy close for the title of BBC Sports Personality of the Year. Ellie, who has achondroplasia or dwarfism, also won gold twice; her achievement helped to prompt a "paradigm shift" in the significance given to the Paralympics planned for London 2012. She has this week been tipped for an MBE in the New Year's Honours list and, if successful, would be the youngest ever recipient of that award.

Joanna Lumley

There's no end to the gorgeousness, flair and fundamental decency of the lovely actress and writer Joanna Lumley. Born to a military family in Kashmir in 1946, Lumley this year fought the British government to a standstill over the right of the British Army's Gurkha veterans to retire to Britain, and scored a significant victory on their behalf. She also made a memorable appearance in Edinburgh, when she launched an exhibition of the work of the fashion designer Jean Muir. Lumley delivered a beautiful and perceptive speech about the great creative talent she knew well as Muir's house model back in the 1960s.

Hannah McGill

Former film critic Hannah McGill took over as director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 2006; less than two-and-a-half years later, she has not only pushed through the previously unthinkable move of the EIFF from August to June, but has also made a huge success of the first Festival in this midsummer slot, which saw the glamorous Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller when The Edge of Love premiered. And with all this, McGill remains a notably foxy presence on the Scottish scene; a lady with boundless style, both in her work and in herself.

Tilda Swinton

What a year for the hugely talented Borders-bred actress, the kind of woman who, at 48, radically redefines the idea of beauty with every remarkable image she presents to the media. In March, she won an Oscar for her role in the George Clooney legal thriller Michael Clayton; she currently has seven other films either on release or in production. Throughout the year, she has fielded with grace and humour a series of intrusive media inquiries about her personal life, which apparently involves her long-time partner John Byrne, their two children, and her younger lover, Sandro Kopp. The popular press thinks this is a story; Tilda doesn't, and bats away the questions with admirable sangfroid.

Mary Contini

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When it comes to women in business in Scotland, there's no-one quite like the female powerhouse of energy and organisation who is now the key player in the legendary Valvona & Crolla Italian food empire. Mary Contini writes atmospheric books about food, has chronicled her family's struggle to settle in Scotland two generations ago, and most recently went into partnership with Jenners to give a whole new lease of life to the most famous Food Hall in Princes Street. She opened up the windows – at last! – enabling us all to admire the view while sipping our espresso.

Cheryl Cole

WAG culture can be supremely irritating, but there's no doubt that the cheerleader of 2008 has been Cheryl Cole, aka Cheryl Tweedy of Girls Aloud and wife of Chelsea footballer Ashley Cole. Briefly but devastatingly betrayed by her man, she fled to Thailand with her girlfriends, proved her mettle as the newest X Factor judge, saw her latest Girls Aloud song go straight to No1 and was named as one of Vogue's front-cover faces for 2009. She got even, in other words, as well as getting mad; and, for millions of teenage girls, that makes her heroine enough.


In a great year for female vocalists, none seemed braver or more original than Tottenham girl Adele, who describes her musical style as "heartbroken soul" and – at barely 20 – sings breathy and cruel laments for her girlhood on the streets of north London, achieving multiple Grammy awards. Unlike many of her contemporaries, Adele defies the stereotype of girl-band gorgeousness, often appearing with her ample frame swathed in what one critic called a "knitted smock-top". More power to Adele's woolly elbow, say we; real girls carry a bit of weight and wear what they damn well please.


Sarah Palin

There can rarely have been a media storm more intense than the one that broke around Sarah Palin's head in August, when Republican presidential candidate John McCain announced the first woman governor of Alaska as his choice of running-mate. Palin shot from near-anonymity to global fame in a matter of hours, ruthlessly dragging with her her large and vulnerable family, including five-month-old Downs' syndrome baby Trig and her pregnant teenage daughter Bristol. Worst of all, though, was her undoubted flakiness at a time when the American economy was spiralling into crisis; a flakiness that, in the end, helped to hand the presidency to Barack Obama.

Sharon Shoesmith

Women managers in the public sector are fast becoming hate-figures for a large section of the population, who seem riled by their combination of politically correct jargon, jobsworth caution, huge salaries and generous pension provision. This year, the Sun led the charge against Sharon Shoesmith, head of children's services in the London Borough of Haringey at the time of Baby P's tragic death, who lost her job without compensation.

Wendy Alexander

Politics is an unforgiving business and, after a career supported throughout by the friendship and patronage of Gordon Brown, it's difficult to forgive Wendy Alexander for her complete failure, in nine months as Labour leader in the Scottish Parliament, even to begin to lead the party out of the crisis into which it was plunged by the SNP's victory in the last Holyrood election. If Alexander had been reinventing social democracy with half the intellectual sharpness and political vigour she was supposed to possess, she could never have been so severely damaged by the minor funding allegations that forced her resignation in June.

Jacqui Smith

She started well, the first female Home Secretary in British history, exposing a bit of bosom in the House of Commons – and the overgrown public-schoolboy ethos of the place for the nonsense it is. Of late, though, she seems to have lost the plot, buying into any old intrusive or restrictive claptrap that comes with the excuse of being in the interest of "national security", and handing the Tories a libertarian propaganda coup with her failure to defend the rights of parliamentarians in the Damian Green case.


Time was when Madonna was an icon of girl-power and uninhibited female sexuality. Things started to go pear-shaped, though, around the time of her marriage to Guy Ritchie; now, eight years and one divorce later, she's beginning to look like a stringy, 50-year-old gym-freak who tastelessly allowed herself to be photographed snogging her alleged basketball-star boyfriend while still protesting that her marriage to Ritchie was intact. It's not a good look, Madge.

Helen Mirren

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Helen Mirren is a woman who should never be off the heroines list, both for the brilliance of her acting and for her glorious embrace of a sexy middle age. But back in September, she blotted her copy-book by simultaneously describing her own great distress at being date-raped as a student and denying that men who commit such rapes should be prosecuted. She sounded, in other words, like one of those damaged old men who keep insisting that being beaten as a child never did them any harm; while carrying obvious evidence, in their own scarred minds, that they have been victims of a real crime.

Rosie Boycott

Rosie Boycott was a heroine of 1970s feminism and one of the first female editors in Fleet Street. So what was she doing, back in July, using her Daily Mail column to attack the whole idea of maternity rights? Either society invests in giving women rights that enable them to combine work and motherhood, or women remain largely excluded from public life, economic power and political decision-making. It's not rocket science but it's a difficult truth to act on, and apparently an easy one to forget.