For nearly 40 years, perfect strangers have been sending ‘Dear Deidre’ Sanders hundreds of letters a week, every week. We meet the nation’s agony aunt extraordinaire
Hello Deidre, you hardly need an introduction, but could you explain to our readers who you work for?I edit a problem page in The Sun newspaper seven days a week, and I answer a problem phone-in on ITV’s This Morning two mornings a week.
How long have you been an agony aunt?Nearly 40 years.
And how old are you?71.
Did you train, or receive qualifications?I did all the training available through what was then the National Marriage Guidance Council (now Relate) short of becoming one of their counsellors, and over the years I have since trained in assertiveness, sexuality, domestic violence, child abuse, anger management, personal development, and I have written books on depression and on men’s and women’s sexual relationships. I was a founder patron of the National Association of People Abused in Childhood. I am also a patron of Family Lives; the National Association for the Children of Alcoholics; and Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
How did you become an agony aunt?I worked from graduation as a journalist with an interest in relationships and family dynamics, and was headhunted from a consumer and women’s rights column in Woman’s Own magazine to the then new Daily Star in 1978, then finally to The Sun in 1980.
How big is your mailbag?I get hundreds of emails and private messages on Facebook at The Sun every week and a similar volume of calls to This Morning.
I hardly move anywhere without hundred of problems, emails and Facebook messages printed out, which I read through and work on at every available moment
Phew! So what happens to the problems that don’t get printed?At The Sun, I work with a team of six counsellors and we prioritise sending every reader who writes in a personal reply within 24 hours. I select which ones will make for readable and informative columns once the readers have received their personal replies. We often write follow-up emails or Facebook messages to readers with difficult problems to see if they have received the help they need and if we can be of further assistance.
How about at This Morning?Viewers initially talk to one of a team of trained phone-answerers. If their call is not suitable for the phone-in, they are given details of relevant helplines and organisations. I do my best to give useful replies on air, but I often call the viewers back afterwards to offer more guidance, and This Morning’s support team are on hand to follow-up cases until we are confident things are improving.
So it’s all-encompassing?I see this ongoing service we provide at both The Sun and This Morning as totally vital – in a way the column and phone-ins are a signpost to the support available.
With so many problems, do you take your work home with you?It’s often on my mind – and there is a lot of it!
The readers are always with you?I hardly move anywhere at any time without hundreds of readers’ problems, emails and Facebook messages printed out, which I read through and work on at every available moment. It’s the only way to get it all done. I’m on holiday next week, but will be taking a few hundred in my suitcase. Luckily, I regard people feeling able to share their problems with me as an amazing privilege, and still get a buzz when we hear from someone saying “thank you” or “we have helped”. This is not the royal “we” by the way! I couldn’t manage at all without my Sun team and the back-up at This Morning.
Do you get a balanced mixture of men and women writing to you?Maybe slightly more women, but it’s fairly even. My columns have more or less equal numbers of problems from men and women.
Are there some topics you find more difficult than others?More distressing, certainly – child abuse, for example.
Do women and men ask similar questions?It’s much more similar these days than in the past.
Do you receive lots of letters about ‘on trend’ subjects?No day goes by now without me receiving problems linked to someone’s use of their phone to flirt with, sext, or date people outside their relationship, or view pornography.
Finally, Deidre, what have you learned about human relationships?They’re complicated – and crucial.