Tyne & Wear

From ordinary beginnings to career success

German chancellor Angela Merkel's response to current European unemployment was much the same as Tory minister Norman Tebbit's was in 1981 - get on your bike and go somewhere else to find a job. Five high-fliers from the north-east of England share their experiences.

The brain surgeon

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Image caption Helen Fernandes says loud music "lightens the atmosphere in the theatre"

Consultant neurosurgeon at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, Helen Fernandes performs high risk surgery on the brain and spine on a regular basis.

Born in Durham, her training and early working life were in Newcastle.

She believes people from the region have a "gritty determination" to get the job done but are also "friendly and open".

Her mother's family came from Easington Lane and her grandfather was a miner.

A certain amount of fear and doubt is good for a surgeon, she says, with "sweat trickling down" her back during an operation.

Loud radio music plays when she operates. She admits to a preference for Neil Diamond and Tom Jones, "which the theatre staff don't really take to".

Listen to Helen Fernandes talking to BBC Newcastle here.

The skyscraper designer

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Image caption Ian Dawson gets job satisfaction from seeing something he has made

The son of a miner from Easington in County Durham, Ian Dawson was the chief structural design engineer on the Shard in London.

Without a trace of irony, he says having to erect a floor a week was a "real tall order".

"When I left school back in the late 80s the mines were actually closing, or had closed, so that was never really an option for me," he said. "But, to be honest, my father never really wanted that for me.

"He was a proud coal miner but I think he wanted me to try and do something a little different."

Listen to Ian Dawson talking to BBC Newcastle here.

The pop star manager

Image caption Karen Taylor is part of Emeli Sande's management team

Karen Taylor left Blaydon near Gateshead as a teenager with the single-minded vision of working in the music industry and now is part of the management team of one of the biggest international singers, Emeli Sande.

She believes it is now "quite trendy" to be a Geordie in some careers.

Her father was a joiner at Swan Hunters shipyard and her mother came from a "hard working-class background".

"They both used to say you can do anything you want. Doesn't matter who you are, what your background is, you can achieve anything," she says.

They are not overawed by her links to the world of fame and celebrity.

"They're typical Geordies, they say nowt," she laughs. "I'd like to think they're proud, but God knows. Honestly, they barely ask."

Listen to Karen Taylor talking to BBC Newcastle here.

The Queen's office staff

Image caption Louise Thompson can hear the changing of the guard from her office

Louise Thompson's family has lived in Ryton, Gateshead for generations, working down the mines, in the local bakery and at the famous engineering firm Vickers Armstrong.

She works in the private secretary's office at Buckingham Palace, passing police and tourists on her way into the office through the main front door,

"You don't ever really get used to that, to be honest. All the tourists are wondering who you are," she says.

"There's footmen walking around, red carpets, lots of very old antique clocks chiming away in the background, amazing works of art on the wall.

"Things that you'd see in your text books at school, they're on the wall next to your office."

Listen to Louise Thompson talking to BBC Newcastle here.

The mayor of Philadelphia's special assistant

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Image caption Luke Butler's boss likes to tell people he is from Spennymoor

Luke Butler grew up in Spennymoor, County Durham and crossed the Atlantic for one of the most high profile jobs in American politics.

He has worked for both Philadelphia's mayor and the city's deputy mayor for economic development .

Brought up to have a good sense of humour, he admits "there's not a lot of crossover between Spennymoor and Philadelphia".

His boss used to tell any British audience he spoke to that Luke worked for him and explain where he was from.

"I had to explain to him that nobody knows where Spennymoor is," Luke says.

"But, since that time, every British person that he happens to meet knows where it is so he's under the impression that Spennymoor is some sprawling metropolis rather than the small little town in the North East that it is."

Listen to Luke Butler talking to BBC Newcastle here..

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