With over 40,000 contacts in her database, Carole Stone is often said to be the best connected woman in the UK. From being a lowly copy taker in the BBC’s Southampton newsroom Carole rose to become Producer of Radio 4’s’Any Questions ?’ Leaving the BBC she started her own company, bringing together politicians, journalists, and business people, and has more recently branched out in a joint venture with the opinion research company YouGov.
Above all, she says, she enjoys seeing a ‘meeting of minds’ between the opinion leaders she invites to come and discuss today’s challenges in various events.
Myriam O’Carroll meets Carole Stone on a one-to-one, as she talks about TheStoneClub, and its successor, the new think tank YouGov-Cambridge.
I started life as a secretary, then I joined the BBC and worked my way up to be a producer for the BBC’s Woman’s Hour and then Any Questions? After many years of enjoying bringing very different people together I thought I wanted to be a television presenter. So I left the BBC and in order to keep in touch with all the people I would want on my show, I started having little lunches at my flat. Stardom didn’t happen, but out of those lunches, one or two company chairmen asked me if I would organize lunches for them, which gave me a new and successful career. And then the idea of a club came along – not like a traditional London club but one where the members would come to different events in different locations to have a drink and hear a talk by somebody interesting, or take part in a debate on a current issue. So that’s how TheStoneClub started. Now I’m working with YouGov to develop YouGov-Cambridge putting together the best research about what’s happening in the world and the best experts to discuss what the research has revealed.
You are known to have over 40,000 contacts in your database, yet you say you prefer face-to-face meetings – how do you keep up with all your contacts?
It is very difficult to keep in touch face-to-face with too many people. You have to accept that at different stages in your life certain people will loom particularly large before they move back a little bit to make room for new friends and contacts. But, now that we’ve got online, I think that any form of communication is good. I often meet people in small gatherings, but of course from time to time still meet people on a one to one basis.
You are a known to be the most connected woman in the UK – what would be your best networking advice?
I would say don’t be frightened of a snub. If you go to an event there may be people there that you want to speak to, but think might be too grand. I would suggest you approach them not by making a pitch, but just saying to them for example, ‘I have a good idea for a business, can I contact you?’ Try and leave with their email details and then follow up the next day. What have you lost if they don’t respond?
If you don’t approach them, you’ve lost the opportunity anyway, so always be courageous and risk a snub.
You say you were a very shy girl – how did you overcome your shyness to become such a networker and public speaker?
I just decided to take a real interest in other people – shyness really is only pride. We all want to make a good impression on others, but I think if you take an interest in other people, particularly if you ask them questions about themselves, it’s rather flattering; people will open up and tell you about themselves.
You support several charities, particularly in the field of facial surgery and psychological issues – why these?
The charities I am involved with are mostly to do with mental health, because my own brother suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and died of stroke in his mid 40’s. I am a Patron of SANE, the mental health charity founded by Marjorie Wallace, and I’m a Governor at the Portman and Tavistock NHS FoundationTrust. I am a Patron of Triumph Over Phobia (TOP UK) for people who suffer from phobias or obsessive-compulsive disorders, and also of Saving Faces, a charity which researches the psychological effect of having something wrong with your face. We help people who have to learn to live with facial deformities of any kind, which of course is often a psychological as much as a physical problem.
Who was the most inspirational person in your life?
My mother, without a doubt. I think my mother was born wise. She taught me to be ever curious, never jealous. I try to live by it.
She said to take life by the scruff of the neck, and to know that whatever happened you could cope; and she said you should do your best to stretch your potential.
Where do you go when you need support?
To my husband who I met when I was 46 – he kept me waiting for 11 years before he proposed and I married at 57. I must say I am not going to waste any years married wishing I was on my own again, because I wasted too many years single, wishing I was married! Richard is my mentor and my soul mate. He is the number one person I want to be sharing things with.
Your outfits are a legend – can you share your address for fashion?
The Changing Room, in Gees Court, London W1 just off Oxford Street – I buy about 90% of my clothes there. It is a little boutique which includes Italian and Japanese clothes in bright colours, easy to travel with, and that’s what I like. But one of my last stunning outfits was made by Imtaz Khaliq who says she is the only woman tailor in the country. The experience of the fitting was fun and Imtaz is an extremely talented bespoke tailor.