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Independent Women 2024 - The Influence List

Independent Women 2024 - The Influence List

Powerful women who make things happen, change the conversation and get what they want are being heralded in The Independent’s 2024 Influence List, to coincide with International Women’s Day.

Whether their strength lies in their ability to overhaul policies and laws, excel at sport, or appeal to their dedicated legion of fans, the common denominator bringing these women together is their ability to affect the world in one way or another.

Top row (left to right): Floella Benjamin, Jameela Jamil,  Anna Whitehouse, Amy Dowden, Carol Vorderman. Bottom row (left to right): Rosie Jones, Penny Mordaunt, Sara Pascoe, Maggie Alphonsi, Kate Garraway) (Sane Seven)
Top row (left to right): Floella Benjamin, Jameela Jamil, Anna Whitehouse, Amy Dowden, Carol Vorderman. Bottom row (left to right): Rosie Jones, Penny Mordaunt, Sara Pascoe, Maggie Alphonsi, Kate Garraway) (Sane Seven)

For a second year running, The Independent has compiled a list of the 50 most influential women of the moment. They came from a variety of worlds spanning the arts, politics, business, sports, television, media, and activism.

The Independent has made a deliberate decision not to exclude women whom readers may disagree with or disapprove of. Influence does not mean adulation and some of the most influential figures of history are difficult and controversial, to say the least.

Topping the list is the impressive Esther Ghey, who has not been broken by the brutal murder of her daughter Brianna but has used it to campaign for good and for change.

She is joined by sporting titan Mary Earps, who helped lead the Lionesses to a World Cup final and inspired a nation, chancellor in waiting Rachel Reeves and actor Hannah Waddingham who has triumphed across stage and screen in the last 12 months.

We hope you enjoy reading about the achievements of all these women whose determination and strength have secured their places on the list.

1. Esther Ghey

Esther Ghey displayed compassion, strength and humanity in the face of  untmost brutality (PA)
Esther Ghey displayed compassion, strength and humanity in the face of untmost brutality (PA)

A self-described introvert, it was the most tragic of circumstances – the murder of her daughter Brianna – that propelled Esther Ghey into the spotlight last year. The 37-year-old first displayed the compassion, strength and humanity that she is now known for when she stood outside court after her daughter’s killers were convicted and called for empathy for their families. Determined to create a lasting legacy for her daughter, Ms Ghey recently met with the prime minister as she campaigns to improve smartphone and social media safeguards for children. “To be honest, I’m probably the most surprised about being included, let alone topping, this list of influential women,” she told The Independent. “There are so many amazing women out there who inspire me and have already done so much - I’m just beginning my journey. As a parent and having experienced the worst of tragedies, I, like many, realise there are some major challenges and issues facing our young people today.”

2. Kate Garraway

Kate  Garraway has fought a very public battle with Covid, through the health struggles of her husband Derek Draper (Getty Images)
Kate Garraway has fought a very public battle with Covid, through the health struggles of her husband Derek Draper (Getty Images)

Kate Garraway showed immense fortitude in publicly documenting her husband Derek Draper’s battle with Covid. The TV and radio presenter shared frequent updates on his health and wielded the power of word and film - creating documentaries and writing books - to shine a light on how the virus forever changed their family’s life. The Good Morning Britain presenter has juggled a high-profile career with caring for him and their three children. The 56-year-old eventually lost her husband earlier this year after his almost four-year battle with coronavirus. Last summer, Garraway was given an MBE for services to journalism, charity and broadcast. Speaking to The Independent about her inclusion on the list, she heralded her mother as her inspiration. “I think women do struggle to celebrate themselves,” she said. “If you are looking at your greatest strengths and valuing them, then you should know what you are good at”.

3. Claudia Winkleman

Claudia Winkleman’s signature style was a fundamental part of the success of the gameshow The Traitors (Ian West/PA Wire)
Claudia Winkleman’s signature style was a fundamental part of the success of the gameshow The Traitors (Ian West/PA Wire)

Making sartorial waves with her iconic fringe and range of knitwear, Claudia Winkleman’s signature style was a fundamental part of the gameshow The Traitors’ phenomenal success. Her deft combination of deadpan comedy and ultra-camp charisma – the latter typified by the episode in which she led contestants to a funeral, dressed in all black and a netted veil – earned her the Bafta for best entertainment performance in 2023. The 52-year-old TV personality is also a part of the prime-time furniture thanks to her long-time Strictly Come Dancing gig alongside Tess Daly, plus her role hosting Channel 4 music competition The Piano.

4. Mary Earps

Known as Mary Queen of Stops, Lionesses icon, world’s best goalkeeper, Nike didn’t think her shirt was worth selling before last year’s World Cup (The FA via Getty Images)
Known as Mary Queen of Stops, Lionesses icon, world’s best goalkeeper, Nike didn’t think her shirt was worth selling before last year’s World Cup (The FA via Getty Images)

Known as Mary Queen of Stops, Lionesses icon, world’s best goalkeeper, TikTok star - and yet, Nike didn’t think her shirt was worth selling before last year’s World Cup. How wrong they were. Earps led a movement and then carried England to their first World Cup final with a series of inspired performances between the posts. Her penalty save in the final, and rather sweary celebration, cemented her place in the hearts of the public. When Earps’ goalkeeper shirt finally went on sale before Christmas, they sold out in minutes due to “unprecedented demand”. Nike had underestimated her popularity and Earps’ push for respect and recognition resonated further. The Sports Personality of the Year award followed and when Madame Tussauds recently held a public vote to decide which women’s footballer would be the first to have their own waxwork, there could only be one winner.

5. Sue Gray

Sue Gray wrote the damning report into lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street during the pandemic (PA)
Sue Gray wrote the damning report into lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street during the pandemic (PA)

While Boris Johnson has nobody but himself to blame for his downfall, his supporters will always blame Sue Gray for bringing down the former prime minister. As the second permanent secretary in the Cabinet Office, Gray wrote the damning report into lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street during the pandemic. And, in a move which sparked outrage among Johnson loyalists, she quit soon afterwards to become chief of staff to Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. On her first day in post, she told Labour headquarters staff: “You had my back [during her gardening leave] and now I’ll have yours.” In the role, she is preparing the party for its expected transition to power and has assumed a pivotal role in Sir Keir’s inner circle.

6. The Queen

The Queen was thrust even further into the limelight following the King’s cancer diagnosis (Getty Images)
The Queen was thrust even further into the limelight following the King’s cancer diagnosis (Getty Images)

The Queen has had a difficult start to 2024 and was thrust even further into the limelight following the King’s cancer diagnosis. As he undergoes treatment, she is now the lead figure for the royal family at key events. At the age of 76, far from slowing down, Camilla appears to be going from strength to strength taking an ever more central role in royal duties in the UK and across the Commonwealth - including a much-praised visit to Kenya where the monarch took steps in acknowledging historical injustices across Africa. She also took part in a state visit to France last year and will be a main feature for the Trooping the Colour in June. Because of the increased workload, she has been dubbed the monarchy’s “saviour” and praised for keeping “the show on the road” in the King’s absence.

7. Hannah Waddingham

An Emmy award for her role as Richmond FC’s fierce chairwoman in Ted Lasso made Hannah Waddingham a star (AFP via Getty Images)
An Emmy award for her role as Richmond FC’s fierce chairwoman in Ted Lasso made Hannah Waddingham a star (AFP via Getty Images)

The entertainment world was so slow to cotton on to Hannah Waddingham’s brilliance that it is mildly embarrassing, but luckily it got there in the end. And when it did, it rightfully elevated her to showstopping camp diva status. For years, Waddingham, with her four-octave range and head-turning stage presence, starred in West End musicals from Spamalot to Into the Woods, but it was an Emmy award for her role as Richmond FC’s fierce chairwoman in Ted Lasso that made her a star. Since then, plum jobs have been thrown at her left, right and centre, from hosting Eurovision and the Olivier Awards to performances at the Bafta Awards and Royal Variety Show. “I think it’s reassuring that, here I am, a single parent, at the age of 47, with the greatest success of my career,” she said a few years ago. This year she turns 50 as one of the most successful, inspiring figures in an industry she fought so long to conquer.

8. Rachel Reeves

Rachel Reeves would be the first woman trusted with the nation’s finances if, as expected, Labour win the next general election (PA)
Rachel Reeves would be the first woman trusted with the nation’s finances if, as expected, Labour win the next general election (PA)

Unless there is a drastic shift in the polls, Rachel Reeves will almost certainly have moved into No11 Downing Street by the end of the year. The Leeds West MP would be the first woman trusted with the nation’s finances and has made it one of her key pledges to work on ending the gender pay gap “once and for all”. Reeves has previously complained about everyday sexism in the Palace of Westminster, including when she was told, before the 2015 election, that she should not be in the cabinet because she was pregnant with her second child. The long-serving Labour MP rode out the Corbyn years as a backbencher and chairman of the business select committee before stepping onto the front line under Sir Keir in 2020. And should Sir Keir step down, Reeves is also seen as a likely contender to become Labour’s first female leader.

9. Raye

Raye triumphed at this year’s Brits, taking home a record-breaking six awards (Getty)
Raye triumphed at this year’s Brits, taking home a record-breaking six awards (Getty)

It’s only March but already 2024 belongs to Raye. The Tottenham-born singer-songwriter triumphed at this year’s Brits, taking home a record-breaking six awards – the most by any artist in a single year. Her success is the result of not only talent and hardwork but a singular, astounding resilience. It was only a few years ago that Raye, then signed to a major label, spoke out on Twitter about her music being held hostage. She released her debut My 21st Century Blues independently – and critical and commercial success followed. “I am so ready to try again, but for myself this time,” she told The Independent. “I’m going to make myself proud. That’s my vibe now. Make me proud.” Accepting Album of the Year on stage alongside her grandmother at the Brits this month, Raye was positively beaming.

10. Anna Whitehouse

The social media personality, also known by the unforgettable moniker of ‘Motherpukka’, runs a popular parenting blog (Anna Whitehouse/@mother_pukka)
The social media personality, also known by the unforgettable moniker of ‘Motherpukka’, runs a popular parenting blog (Anna Whitehouse/@mother_pukka)

Many who have witnessed Anna Whitehouse’s tireless fight for flexible working and affordable childcare will be wondering when the campaigner ever finds time to get some shuteye. The social media personality, also known by the unforgettable moniker of ‘Motherpukka’, runs a popular parenting blog, hosts a show on Heart radio, writes best-selling books, and presents an award-winning podcast called Dirty Mother Pukka. The mother-of-two is not afraid to speak openly and honestly about the hard parts of motherhood, her own experience of miscarriage, and the fact women so often take on the lion’s share of childcare, often thwarting their career progression. And Whitehouse’s hard work has had tangible success, with the campaigner launching the Flex Appeal – a national campaign calling for flexible working conditions which has culminated in a law change due to come into force next month.

11. Emerald Fennell

Controversial smash-hit Saltburn written and directed by Emerald Fennell boosted her to the next level of household name fame (Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)
Controversial smash-hit Saltburn written and directed by Emerald Fennell boosted her to the next level of household name fame (Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)

There’s no arguing that the controversial smash-hit Saltburn, written and directed by Emerald Fennell, 38, was the most talked-about film of 2023 (just mention “the bathtub scene” in company and watch people squirm). Aside from its own credentials as darkly funny satire that’s hugely fun to watch, it also did God’s work in using Murder On the Dancefloor to soundtrack the final scene – Sophie Ellis-Baxter’s Noughties hit was the most heard song on Earth in January 2024. The black comedy may have boosted her to the next level of household name fame, but Fennell already boasted an impressive portfolio of credits, including five Oscar nominations for her feature debut, Promising Young Woman; head writer and showrunner for the second season of Killing Eve; playing Camilla in The Crown and even a small but unforgettable acting role as the pregnant Midge in the Barbie movie.

12. Merope Mills

Merope Mills has fought for a family’s right to demand a second medical opinion following the death of her 13-year-old daughter Martha in 2021 (Dave Benett/Getty Images for Wom)
Merope Mills has fought for a family’s right to demand a second medical opinion following the death of her 13-year-old daughter Martha in 2021 (Dave Benett/Getty Images for Wom)

It takes huge courage and compassion to carry on fighting for justice after the loss of a loved one and particularly if it was your child. This is what Merope Mills did following the death of her 13-year-old daughter Martha in 2021 after staff at King’s College Hospital failed to listen to her family’s concerns and admit Martha to critical care. In her campaign to seek justice and improve care for others, Merope and Martha’s father Paul Laity have shifted the dial and forced a change in national policy. This year, the NHS is introducing Martha’s Rule which will be rolled out in more than 100 hospitals and allow families the right to seek a second opinion. What she has achieved in the last three years is uplifting for all those who have lost people due to substandard care.

13. Penny Mordaunt

The former defence secretary has commandeered grassroots support within the party and is a popular figure in the Conservative youth movement (AFP via Getty Images)
The former defence secretary has commandeered grassroots support within the party and is a popular figure in the Conservative youth movement (AFP via Getty Images)

Known for her sharp wit, sword-wielding skills and unmistakable leadership ambitions, Penny Mordaunt is a force to be reckoned with in Westminster. A leading moderate voice within the Conservative party, the former defence secretary has commandeered grassroots support within the party and is a popular figure in the Conservative youth movement. As the leader of the House of Commons, Mourdant is known to spar with the opposition every Thursday during business questions, earning a reputation as a charismatic orator. With a knack for rallying the troops - a difficult task considering the party’s poll position - Ms Mordaunt is poised to remain a prominent figure in the ongoing battle for the Conservative party’s soul and may become a leading contender in the imminent fight for its leadership.

14. Alex Scott

After a successful career for the Lionesses, Alex Scott hosts of one of the BBC’s flagship sports shows, Football Focus, she also fronts daytime quiz The Tournament (Getty Images)
After a successful career for the Lionesses, Alex Scott hosts of one of the BBC’s flagship sports shows, Football Focus, she also fronts daytime quiz The Tournament (Getty Images)

Following a stellar on-field career littered with trophies at club level, 140 caps for the Lionesses and a place in the English Football Hall of Fame, Alex Scott has now become an equally visible presence away from the pitch. Host of one of the BBC’s flagship sports shows, Football Focus, she also fronts daytime quiz The Tournament and has guest presented The One Show, in addition to regular live football punditry. Scott is a fierce advocate for a range of social issues, including support for domestic abuse survivors – having revealed in her 2022 autobiography the abuse she suffered as a child at the hands of her father – as well as LGBT+ communities, winning the Sport Award at last year’s Attitude Awards. The 39-year-old went public with her relationship with pop star Jess Glynne last autumn.

15. Carol Vorderman

Carol Vorderman is not afraid to speak her mind and left the BBC last November to do exactly that (Getty Images)
Carol Vorderman is not afraid to speak her mind and left the BBC last November to do exactly that (Getty Images)

Former Countdown presenter Carol Vorderman left her job at the BBC in November last year following the company’s new guidelines limiting social media activity. Determined she would not be “silenced” on her criticism of government policies, she joined LBC to present her own radio show two months later. The 62-year-old has since been inundated with positive responses from listeners. Describing herself as “a free school meals kid at Cambridge”, she has previously said she doesn’t mind losing jobs to be forthright in her opinions and has been involved in several debates with prominent Tory MPs including Maria Caulfield, Greg Hands and Johnny Mercer. Vorderman has long been a bulwark of British entertainment and this shows no sign of abating.

16. Princess of Wales

The Princess of Wales’s temporary absence from public life spotlights her essential role as a stabilising force in the royal family (Getty Images)
The Princess of Wales’s temporary absence from public life spotlights her essential role as a stabilising force in the royal family (Getty Images)

Recovering from abdominal surgery, the Princess of Wales’s temporary absence from public life highlights her essential role as a stabilising force in the royal family. Echoing Queen Elizabeth, Kate demonstrates unwavering dedication to charity work alongside her husband, Prince William, in addition to their shared duties as parents to three young children. Focused on children and young people, Kate last year convened the Shaping Us National Symposium, uniting early childhood experts under her Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood. A staunch advocate for early childhood development, her 2023 Christmas carol concert celebrated families across the UK. Patron to 20 charitable and military organisations, the princess is poised to resume royal duties around Easter.

17. Jo Hamilton

Despite having been wrongly convicted herself, former subpostmistress Jo Hamilton has channelled her misfortunes into a pivotal role in the Post Office scandal (AFP via Getty Images)
Despite having been wrongly convicted herself, former subpostmistress Jo Hamilton has channelled her misfortunes into a pivotal role in the Post Office scandal (AFP via Getty Images)

Jo Hamilton’s pivotal role in uncovering the depth of injustice in the Post Office scandal - which saw hundreds of subpostmasters wrongly convicted of theft and false accounting - has led to a mass reckoning and a wider appetite to right the wrongs of corporate injustices across Westminster. Despite having been wrongly convicted herself, the former subpostmistress has channelled her misfortunes into activism – securing the historic mass pardoning of those affected by the Horizon IT scandal and securing millions in compensation payouts. Through her tenacity and humility – alongside the founder of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, Alan Bates - Hamilton continues to demand accountability and justice for her former colleagues.

18. Emma Hayes

Emma Hayes has shone as a leader and innovative tactician, delivering six Women’s Super League titles, five FA Cups and two League Cups to date (PA)
Emma Hayes has shone as a leader and innovative tactician, delivering six Women’s Super League titles, five FA Cups and two League Cups to date (PA)

A coaching pioneer of the women’s game, Emma Hayes has led a 12-year dynasty with Chelsea and is now poised to take over one of sport’s biggest brands: the US women’s national team. Hayes has shone as a leader and innovative tactician, delivering six women’s super league titles, five FA cups and two league cups to date - including the double last season. A huge character with a charismatic edge, as seen with her gripping television punditry work, Hayes will soon hold a powerful position with the Stars and Stripes. Hayes is destined to become the highest-earning female football coach at £1m per year - with the US role one of the few in the sport aligned with the male counterpart in terms of compensation. Timing is everything in sport, and should Hayes elevate a hugely talented group, a World Cup in 2027, perhaps on home soil, could further cement her status as a legend of the game.

19.Rosie Jones

Rosie Jones has become a staple on the British small screens, delighting audiences with her trademark wit and comedic timing (PA)
Rosie Jones has become a staple on the British small screens, delighting audiences with her trademark wit and comedic timing (PA)

Since beginning her career as a researcher for Channel 4, Rosie Jones has become a staple on the British small screens, delighting audiences with her trademark wit and comedic timing in shows such as 8 Out of 10 Cats and The Last Leg. It is not always a barrel of laughs for the comedian, though, routinely subjected as she is to endless ableist abuse online. Earlier this year, Jones, who has cerebral palsy, released a documentary tackling that very subject. Am I a R*tard? painted a sobering picture of what Jones must deal with on a daily basis. “I’m out there being disabled, sexual, proud, rude, flawed,” she told The Guardian. “That’s scary for a lot of people – people who are used to thinking of disabled people as tragic or angelic. I don’t fall into their archaic stereotypes.” One thing is clear, Jones has no interest in being a stereotype.

20. Kemi Badenoch

The MP for Saffron Walden is the current favourite to be the next leader of the Tory Party if Rishi Sunak loses the election (Aaron Chown/PA Wire)
The MP for Saffron Walden is the current favourite to be the next leader of the Tory Party if Rishi Sunak loses the election (Aaron Chown/PA Wire)

From launching into anti-woke crusades to whipping up culture wars, it can feel a lot like Kemi Badenoch is actively courting controversy. The business secretary, who is a fervent Brexiteer, has openly voiced her opposition to teaching critical race theory and white privilege in British schools, cited Margaret Thatcher as one of her idols, and branded trans women “men”, questioning their campaign for equal rights, in a leaked audio recording. Irrespective of whether you adore or despise the Tory politician, there is no escaping just how quickly her influence has ballooned since her time spent working in Mcdonald’s during her college days and arrival in parliament in 2017. After all, the MP for Saffron Walden is the current favourite to be the next leader of the Tory Party if Rishi Sunak loses the election.

21. Amy Dowden

Amy Dowden has become a real fan favourite on Strictly Come Dancing and those fans have followed her battle with cancer closely (Getty Images)
Amy Dowden has become a real fan favourite on Strictly Come Dancing and those fans have followed her battle with cancer closely (Getty Images)

Since making her debut as a Strictly Come Dancing professional back in 2017, 33-year-old Amy Dowden has become a real fan favourite, beloved for her sunny smile and endless patience with her celebrity partners. But in May 2023, she revealed that she had been diagnosed with an “aggressive” form of breast cancer, after discovering a lump the day before her honeymoon. She went on to document her treatment process on Instagram, raising awareness of the disease and encouraging young women to get checked. Although she couldn’t take part in Strictly while undergoing chemotherapy, she still made a handful of appearances, opting to “brave the bald” and dance without her wig. It was a joy to see her back on the ballroom floor: with her recent tests showing no evidence of cancer, here’s hoping she’ll make a full Strictly comeback later this year.

22. Olivia Colman

Starring most recently in Wonka, Olivia Colman has been nominated for a litany of prestigious accolades in her career (Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images f)
Starring most recently in Wonka, Olivia Colman has been nominated for a litany of prestigious accolades in her career (Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images f)

Often dubbed a national treasure, Olivia Colman manages to walk the tightrope between earnest, self-deprecating, heartfelt and playful. Starring most recently in Wonka, which tells the tale of Roald Dahl’s outlandish chocolatier, the actor has been nominated for a litany of prestigious accolades in her career, including an Oscar and four BAFTA awards. But it is not just acting that Colman cascades her energies into; she is also committed to tackling domestic abuse, being an ambassador for the UK’s largest domestic abuse charity Refuge which is partnered with The Independent. In an interview last year, Colman questioned whether the inaction on domestic homicides of women lies in the continued belief that “women are still expendable”. In her own words, “If it was between two and three men killed a week, would that make a difference?”

23. Gillian Anderson

Gillian Anderson’s staunch feminism has propelled her to icon status (AFP via Getty Images)
Gillian Anderson’s staunch feminism has propelled her to icon status (AFP via Getty Images)

The 55-year-old siren who first found fame 30 years ago as Agent Scully in The X-Files has, if anything, unapologetically ramped up the sex appeal as she has got older – leaning into roles such as Sex Education’s iconic sex therapist (and resident Milf) Jean Milburn. She is also releasing a book about women’s sexual fantasies, Want, in September 2024. But it’s the sheer diversity of the parts she has nailed that makes Gillian Anderson a force to be reckoned with, including her Emmy award-winning turn as Britain’s first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, in The Crown. This year brings a hotly anticipated Netflix film, Scoop, based on the infamous Newsnight interview with Prince Andrew, in which Anderson will play Emily Maitlis. Her staunch feminism has also propelled her to icon status – including a viral video in which Anderson uttered the immortal lines: “Any time somebody tells me to do something, I’m going to say ‘f*** off’” in response to toxic wellness culture.

24. Floella Benjamin

As the first Trinidadian in the Lords, Baroness Floella Benjamin has fought to improve diversity and inclusion across the institution (Getty Images for SOLT)
As the first Trinidadian in the Lords, Baroness Floella Benjamin has fought to improve diversity and inclusion across the institution (Getty Images for SOLT)

Beyond her beloved children’s TV persona, Baroness Floella Benjamin is an advocate for change on many fronts. From championing children’s rights to fighting for justice for victims of the Windrush scandal, she’s become a leading figure of integrity in the House of Lords. As the first Trinidadian in the Lords, Baroness Benjamin has fought to improve diversity and inclusion across the institution. In 2023, Baroness Benjamin was one of 50 figures to take part in the historic coronation ceremony where she carried the King’s sceptre. The actor and presenter said the opportunity was symbolic of “everything she stands for” and “sends out a clear message that diversity and inclusion is being embraced”.

25. Tracey Emin

For decades, Emin has been the daring, mischievous hand that has drawn people into an art world that sometimes feels intimidating (Image courtesy of Tracy Emin)
For decades, Emin has been the daring, mischievous hand that has drawn people into an art world that sometimes feels intimidating (Image courtesy of Tracy Emin)

It felt only right that when the National Portrait Gallery reopened last year, following a £41.3 million refurbishment, its brand new bronze doors were covered with etchings by Tracey Emin. Emblazoned with the faces of 45 women, Emin’s work was a proud riposte to the gallery’s male-heavy history. It was also, for visitors, a welcome to a more inclusive age – just as, for decades, Emin has been the daring, mischievous hand that has drawn people into an art world that sometimes feels intimidating. Alongside her continued practice of tender, intimate paintings of the female body, Emin continues to live boldly, swimming in the sea of her beloved Margate, refusing to be held back by the stoma she had fitted after being diagnosed with bladder cancer.

26. Heather Hallett

Baroness Hallett fearlessly informed Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak that their failure to hand over unredacted messages related to the pandemic would be a criminal offence (PA)
Baroness Hallett fearlessly informed Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak that their failure to hand over unredacted messages related to the pandemic would be a criminal offence (PA)

Baroness Heather Carol Hallett, the fifth woman to sit as a judge in the Court of Appeal, is a firebrand of the legal landscape. From presiding over the London bombings inquest to holding the government’s feet to the fire over its Covid response, it is little surprise Baroness Hallet was once tipped to become the first female Lord Chief Justice. In her latest role chairing the public inquiry into the UK government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Baroness Hallett fearlessly informed Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak that their failure to hand over unredacted messages related to the pandemic would be a criminal offence. As the inquiry progresses, she is expected to demand full transparency from the government over its Covid policies, draw out answers for bereaved families and shape the recommendations that will define any future response to another outbreak.

27. Charlotte Tilbury

She started her career masterminding catwalk beauty looks for high-end brands and transforming celebrities for magazine cover shoots (Getty Images)
She started her career masterminding catwalk beauty looks for high-end brands and transforming celebrities for magazine cover shoots (Getty Images)

In the decade since launching her eponymous beauty brand, Charlotte Tilbury has gone from being best known as Kate Moss’s go-to make-up artist to a household name in her own right. She started her career masterminding catwalk beauty looks for high-end brands and transforming celebrities for magazine cover shoots, before unveiling her first products – complete with retro-glam packaging and playful, winking names – in 2013. Just seven years later, she sold a majority stake to Spanish conglomerate Puig for an estimated $1 billion, while remaining the company’s president, chairman and chief creative officer (she’s still a fixture on Instagram too, greeting followers with a chummy “Hi darlings!”). Last year, Amal Clooney presented her with the special recognition award at the Fashion Awards, and her brand recently became the first female-founded company to sponsor the F1 Academy, a series for young women racing drivers.

28. Zadie Smith

A calm, rational voice advocating for ambivalence in a frenetic, divisive discourse (Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)
A calm, rational voice advocating for ambivalence in a frenetic, divisive discourse (Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)

Almost a quarter of a century after her era-defining debut White Teeth, publishers are still using “the new Zadie Smith” to sell emerging young novelists to the reading public. But since that precocious debut at the age of 24, Smith has grown into a mature writer who is most comfortable doing the unexpected. A social media refusenik, she has been a calm, rational voice advocating for ambivalence in a frenetic, divisive discourse, and last year she won some of the best reviews of her career for her first historical novel, The Fraud. Using the real story of a 19th-century legal trial, in which a man claimed to be a rich heir thought to have been lost at sea, Smith took the past in order to illuminate the present, via rich themes of race, class and wealth.

29. Jameela Jamil

She began the I Weigh movement to promote the idea that people, especially women, should be “weighed” by their achievements rather than the number shown on their bathroom scales (Getty Images)
She began the I Weigh movement to promote the idea that people, especially women, should be “weighed” by their achievements rather than the number shown on their bathroom scales (Getty Images)

Aged 17, Jameela Jamil was hit by a car. She severely damaged her spine and spent more than a year recovering. “Having a near-death experience gives you a strong perspective,” she said in a recent interview. “Being dragged on Twitter or being embarrassed on television – or rejection – nothing scares me any more. So I think it made me very bold.” That resilience has carried her through from the year she hopped onto screens when she fronted Channel 4’s Saturday morning hangover slot, T4, in 2009, to when she became the first regular solo female presenter on the BBC Radio 1 Chart Show in 2012. You may have missed her starring in Netflix’s The Good Place and Love at First Sight, but you are less likely to have missed her activism campaigning for mental health. She began the I Weigh movement, a campaign that started on Instagram in 2018, to promote the idea that people, especially women, should be “weighed” by their achievements rather than the number shown on their bathroom scales.

30. Maggie Alphonsi

Maggie Alphonsi has become one of rugby’s most prominent pundits and influential figures since concluding her playing career as a World Cup winner in 2014 (Ken McKay/ITV/Shutterstock)
Maggie Alphonsi has become one of rugby’s most prominent pundits and influential figures since concluding her playing career as a World Cup winner in 2014 (Ken McKay/ITV/Shutterstock)

A hard hitter on and off the pitch, Maggie Alphonsi has become one of rugby’s most prominent pundits and influential figures since concluding her playing career as a World Cup winner in 2014. The openside flanker won 74 England caps and now shapes the game as part of the Rugby Football Union (RFU) council, with a stated ambition of becoming president of English rugby’s governing body. In a sport making steps towards becoming more inclusive, Alphonsi has been an important figure in advocating for greater representation on and off the pitch. Awarded an MBE in 2012, her well-received autobiography Winning the Fight was published last year.

31. Debbie Crosbie

She is currently overseeing the purchase of Virgin Money in a dramatic £2.9bn takeover deal, making her the top female banking executive in Britain (PA)
She is currently overseeing the purchase of Virgin Money in a dramatic £2.9bn takeover deal, making her the top female banking executive in Britain (PA)

Debbie Crosbie heads up Nationwide, the third-biggest UK mortgage lender after Lloyds and NatWest and the largest to be owned by its customers. She is currently overseeing the purchase of Virgin Money in a dramatic £2.9bn takeover deal, making her the top female banking executive in Britain. Unlike many high-flying finance executives, she was educated at a comprehensive school in Glasgow and her first job was as a shoe shop assistant. She oversaw a dramatic reduction in bank branches at TSB, her previous berth, cutting 550 to less than 300 as she guided the bank’s recovery from months of IT outages that kept millions of customers locked out of their accounts under her predecessor.

32. Emma Grede

Emma Grede teamed up with Khloe Kardashian back in 2016 to launch Good American, a denim brand focused on size inclusivity (PA)
Emma Grede teamed up with Khloe Kardashian back in 2016 to launch Good American, a denim brand focused on size inclusivity (PA)

The secret weapon behind the Kardashian family’s fashion industry domination? It’s Emma Grede, a 41-year-old Plaistow native and London College of Fashion dropout. She teamed up with Khloe Kardashian back in 2016 to launch Good American, a denim brand focused on size inclusivity (from day one, it has offered styles in sizes from 00 to 24, and has since expanded this range). Then, in 2019, she and her husband Jens worked with Kim Kardashian on the reality star’s shapewear line, Skims. The business was valued at around $4 billion in 2023; in the same year, Forbes named Emma as one of the richest self-made women in America (where she and Jens are now based). She’s also committed to making the fashion industry more inclusive, and currently chairs the Fifteen Percent Pledge, a non-profit initiative which calls on American retailers to dedicate 15 per cent of their shelf space to Black-owned brands.

33. Little Simz

Simz is now finally in a position to say No Thank You – the title of her latest album and recent tour – to an industry that overlooked her for so long (REUTERS)
Simz is now finally in a position to say No Thank You – the title of her latest album and recent tour – to an industry that overlooked her for so long (REUTERS)

When rapper Little Simz won Best New Artist at the Brit Awards in 2022, despite being 12 years and four studio albums into her career, it felt like a snub. Still, taking to the stage to accept her prize, she smiled and said: “Thank you.” Simz – full name Simbiatu Abisola Abiola Ajikawo – was 16 when she released her first mixtape in 2010. But it wasn’t until her 2021 album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert that she was recognised at the Mercury Awards and the Brits. Simz is now finally in a position to say No Thank You – the title of her latest album and recent tour – to an industry that overlooked her for so long. By now, she’s starred in Netflix’s Top Boy, and recently stormed down the runway at Miu Miu’s Paris Fashion Week show. The rapper’s star power is unmissable.

34. Munroe Bergdorf

Since the viral race row which caused her to be dropped from the campaign, Bergdorf has gone on to improve visibility for the trans community worldwide (AFP via Getty Images)
Since the viral race row which caused her to be dropped from the campaign, Bergdorf has gone on to improve visibility for the trans community worldwide (AFP via Getty Images)

She’s known for being the first transgender model in the UK for beauty brand L’Oreal. Since the viral race row which caused her to be dropped from the campaign, Bergdorf has gone on to improve visibility for the trans community worldwide. In November 2023, UN Women announced her as its first UK Champion, a role that focuses on the empowerment of women through gender equality. In 2022, she was announced as a Contributing Editor at British Vogue for which she has also graced the cover. Her role will enable her to “continue her work amplifying marginalised voices, offering insight and instruction on feminism, diversity and LGBTQ+ topics”.

35. Pat Cullen

In the largest and longest phase of nursing strike action, she took on ministers and showed she was not scared to speak her mind (PA)
In the largest and longest phase of nursing strike action, she took on ministers and showed she was not scared to speak her mind (PA)

Last year, Pat Cullen spearheaded the Royal College of Nursing’s pay campaign; unafraid to challenge the powers that be while doing so. In the largest and longest phase of nursing strike action, she took on ministers and showed she was not scared to speak her mind, branding the former health secretary Steve Barclay a “bullyboy” in a controversial interview. Despite a disappointing pay deal, the Northern Irish nurse represents one of the largest parts of the NHS workforce, and which incidentally is primarily female. The strike action last year no doubt had a massive impact on both government actions and the functioning of the NHS. Merely being in this role means she has the potential to wield huge influence over the next year.

36. Christina McAnea

Christina McAnea represents the interests of more than 1.3 million members across the public services (PA)
Christina McAnea represents the interests of more than 1.3 million members across the public services (PA)

As the general secretary of the UK’s largest trade union Unison, Christina McAnea represents the interests of more than 1.3 million members across the public services. The Scotswoman saw off candidates from the Labour left to rise to the top of the trade union in January 2021, and she is supportive of Sir Keir Starmer and his leadership of the Labour Party. Unison is one of Labour’s biggest donors and will be looking to get their priorities into any future Labour manifesto. McAnea, the daughter of a Glaswegian dinner lady, was the first woman to head the union, with women making up around three-quarters of Unison’s members.

37. Sara Pascoe

Sara Pascoe uses her platform to speak out about the realities of IVF and miscarriage, and the abuses of sexual predators in the comedy industry (Getty Images)
Sara Pascoe uses her platform to speak out about the realities of IVF and miscarriage, and the abuses of sexual predators in the comedy industry (Getty Images)

The febrile nature of our cultural discourse could send many comedians running for the hills, all tied up in knots. But not stand-up Sara Pascoe, who unpretentiously continues to be a force for good, using her platform to speak out about the realities of IVF and miscarriage, and the abuses of sexual predators in the comedy industry. The thinking woman’s jester, Pascoe continues to boldly furrow her own path: last year she published her debut novel, Weirdo, the bittersweet and philosophical story of a woman who sublimates her anxiety about her looming debts into a slightly inappropriate crushand set up a books-based podcast to dissect her avid reading, alongside friend and fellow comic Cariad Lloyd.

38. Georgia Harrison

Harrison, who has appeared on The Only Way Is Essex and Love Island, has become a campaigner since becoming a victim of revenge porn (PA Wire)
Harrison, who has appeared on The Only Way Is Essex and Love Island, has become a campaigner since becoming a victim of revenge porn (PA Wire)

From voicing hopes to become a Labour MP in Essex to attending the party’s conference in Liverpool, last year was the year in which Georgia Harrison set herself apart from many fellow reality TV stars. Harrison, who has appeared on The Only Way Is Essex and Love Island, has become a campaigner since becoming a victim of revenge porn. Her former boyfriend Stephen Bear was jailed for 21 months in March last year for sharing private footage of the pair having sex in his garden in Loughton, Essex on his OnlyFans site. Speaking to The Independent last year, Harrison described the betrayal she felt after Bear “gaslit” her into thinking he would never leak footage.

39. Bridget Phillipson

Bridget Phillipson will take charge of Britain’s crumbling schools if the party emerges victorious after the general election (AFP via Getty Images)
Bridget Phillipson will take charge of Britain’s crumbling schools if the party emerges victorious after the general election (AFP via Getty Images)

Few roles in a Labour government are as important as education secretary, and Bridget Phillipson will take charge of Britain’s crumbling schools if the party emerges victorious after the general election. The MP for Houghton and Sunderland South has ordered a major review of early years education and care by former Ofsted chief inspector Sir David Bell. And she has pledged a focus on tackling the crisis in pupil absences and child mental health. Phillipson is also responsible for one of Labour’s key policies, scrapping the charitable status of private schools to raise money to invest in state education. She has spoken of her journey from a state school in the North East to Oxford University, where people joked about it being “grim up north”.

40. Sarah Ferguson

Fergie has always handled what life has thrown at her with an irrepressible spirit (Scott Garfitt/Invision/AP)
Fergie has always handled what life has thrown at her with an irrepressible spirit (Scott Garfitt/Invision/AP)

The royal better known as Fergie has had a tumultuous four decades in the public eye – from “fairytale” Eighties wedding to tabloid stings, from being persona non grata for the late Prince Philip to standing by her ex-husband Prince Andrew after his friendship with the disgraced Jeffrey Epstein was laid bare in a Newsnight interview. But she has always handled what life has thrown at her with an irrepressible spirit – and her loyalty has ensured that she has been welcomed back into the royal fold with open arms in recent years (she was even entrusted with looking after the Queen’s corgis after the monarch’s death). She was recently diagnosed with skin cancer, not long after learning she had an early form of breast cancer last year, and is now “determined to do whatever I can to help raise awareness by sharing my experience”.

41. Naomi Campbell

It is clear this will be a big year for the supermodel with London’s Victoria and Albert Museum due to hold an exhibition showcasing her life and work called NAOMI (EPA)
It is clear this will be a big year for the supermodel with London’s Victoria and Albert Museum due to hold an exhibition showcasing her life and work called NAOMI (EPA)

Supermodel extraordinaire, activist and fashion icon, Naomi Campbell has an apt for being unapologetically herself at all times. Since the fateful day Campbell was spotted by a modelling agent shopping in Covent Garden aged just 15, the south Londoner’s career has been marked by a succession of firsts. Campbell, who has spent four decades dominating the fashion industry, was the first Black model to be on the cover of British Vogue since 1966 back in 1987 at the age of 17. And then a year later, she became the first Black model to be featured on the cover of Vogue Paris in 1988. Fast forward to 2024 and it is clear this will be a big year for the supermodel who recently became a mother-of-two, with London’s Victoria and Albert Museum due to hold an exhibition showcasing her life and work called NAOMI.

42. Maya Jama

Taking over as the host of the forever controversial ITV2 dating reality show Love Island last year, the TV presenter and radio DJ became the first person of colour to host the show (Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)
Taking over as the host of the forever controversial ITV2 dating reality show Love Island last year, the TV presenter and radio DJ became the first person of colour to host the show (Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

Unwaveringly relatable, devoid of airs and graces, and overflowing with charisma, there is a reason Maya Jama is, well, everywhere. Taking over as the host of the forever controversial ITV2 dating reality show Love Island last year, the TV presenter and radio DJ became the first person of colour to host the show. While Jama may have co-hosted the recent 2024 Brit Awards, found herself on the front cover of Vogue and become the face of Dolce & Gabbana last year, the Bristol-born star remains as unfettered by pretensions as ever. Despite being known for her devotion and aptitude for having a good time, Jama’s life has not been free of hardships, with the presenter navigating a childhood with her father in and out of prison and her boyfriend shot dead when she was 16.

43. Shirley Bassey

It was late in her career that audiences discovered the 87-year-old Shirley Bassey has a “soft voice” that she never uses (Getty Images for EON Productions)
It was late in her career that audiences discovered the 87-year-old Shirley Bassey has a “soft voice” that she never uses (Getty Images for EON Productions)

Dame Shirley Bassey was so committed to her performance of Bond theme Goldfinger that she virtually collapsed in the studio when delivering her final note. That full-blooded vocal delivery has seen her through a 70-year career, first performing as a teenager in 1953 and recording theme songs for three Bond films. Her vocal growls and old-school glamour are practically synonymous with the spy flick – and despite contemporary attempts to reach the same level of power and iconography – modern Bond themes have never quite matched up. And she’s versatile too. It was late in her career that audiences discovered the 87-year-old has a “soft voice” that she never uses.

44. Yasmin Finney

The Manchester-raised actor, who is transgender, rose above hateful slurs and online bigotry to deliver a transfixing performance as Rose in Dr Who’s 60th anniversary specials (PA)
The Manchester-raised actor, who is transgender, rose above hateful slurs and online bigotry to deliver a transfixing performance as Rose in Dr Who’s 60th anniversary specials (PA)

Stepping into the hallowed universe of Doctor Who is a daunting prospect for any new actor, but Yasmin Finney had even more up against her. The Manchester-raised actor, who is transgender, rose above hateful slurs and online bigotry to deliver a transfixing performance as Rose in the show’s 60th anniversary specials. Her breakout role in the Netflix’s LGBTQ+ teen series Heartstopper, was similarly pivotal – offering many young viewers their first positive depiction of queer life. “Whether you’re queer or not, it’s a world of positivity and escapism, which I think a lot of people need,” she told The Independent. “Especially with the tough time that we’re in.”

45. Dua Lipa

Dua Lipa is smart as well as political; she has her own book club, where she interviews authors like Hanya Yanagihara and Brit Bennet, and spoke at last year’s Hay Festival (Alberto Pezzali/Invision/AP)
Dua Lipa is smart as well as political; she has her own book club, where she interviews authors like Hanya Yanagihara and Brit Bennet, and spoke at last year’s Hay Festival (Alberto Pezzali/Invision/AP)

Aged 25, Gen Z pop queen Dua Lipa has risen to fame in a landscape quite comfortable with the idea of powerful women – but it’s certainly not something she has taken for granted. Her life, she admitted earlier this year, has been shaped by the fact her parents were forced to flee the former Yugoslavia during the Kosovo War in the 1990s. Previously she has criticised the government’s immigration policies and called for a ceasefire in Gaza, and earlier this year expressed frustration at the limitations placed on pop stars. “They don’t want you to be political. They don’t want you to be smart,” she told Rolling Stone. Dua Lipa is smart as well as political; she has her own book club, where she interviews authors like Hanya Yanagihara and Brit Bennet, and spoke at last year’s Hay Festival. But let’s not forget that she makes bangers too: the global phenomenon that was Barbie wouldn’t have been the same without her perfect disco ditty “Dance the Night”.

46. Alison Hammond

Taking on a new role as co-presenter on Channel 4’s The Great British Bake Off alongside Noel Fielding, she also stepped up her stints hosting ITV’s This Morning with Dermot O’Leary (PA)
Taking on a new role as co-presenter on Channel 4’s The Great British Bake Off alongside Noel Fielding, she also stepped up her stints hosting ITV’s This Morning with Dermot O’Leary (PA)

Irrepressible TV presenter Alison Hammond hit new heights of career success in 2023. Taking on a new role as co-presenter on Channel 4’s The Great British Bake Off alongside Noel Fielding, she also stepped up her stints hosting ITV’s This Morning with Dermot O’Leary following the resignations of Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield. Throw in her new gig as the face of For the Love of Dogs in 2024, replacing Paul O’Grady after his death, and the 49-year-old Hammond is dangerously close to securing “national treasure” status. Her popular brand of infectious laughter and brimming-over-with-joy persona have garnered her awards including best presenter at the Women in Film and TV Awards 2023, plus a 2022 Bafta nomination for Best Entertainment Performance.

47. Rebecca Welch

Welch’s journey started long before when she was working as an NHS administrator in 2010, and it was not until 2019 that she managed to become a full-time official (Action Images via Reuters)
Welch’s journey started long before when she was working as an NHS administrator in 2010, and it was not until 2019 that she managed to become a full-time official (Action Images via Reuters)

Rebecca Welch made history in December 2023 when she became the first female referee of a Premier League match, 13 years after Sian Massey-Ellis had become the first official to run the lines in the English top flight. Welch’s journey started long before when she was working as an NHS administrator in 2010, and it was not until 2019 that she managed to become a full-time official. Since then it has been a quickfire rise to the heights of the Premier League, and she has consistently had to break new ground for women. Her trailblazing feat could inspire a new generation of women interested in football to consider a path as an official.

48. Ambika Mod

 (PA)
(PA)

When Ambika Mod joined her university’s comedy society as a student, she decided that making people laugh is “the best feeling in the world”. Her penchant for comedy sketches saw her land a breakout role in the acclaimed BBC drama This Is Going to Hurt. That success led to her casting as the romantic lead in Netflix’s hit adaptation of David Nicholls’s One Day, in which she plays the witty, ambitious and vulnerable Emma Morley opposite The White Lotus’s Leo Woodall. Mod has been credited for representing South Asian women as a romantic lead in a blockbuster romcom – representation that is often missing from screens both small and big. Mod was initially in disbelief that she could play Emma. “I didn’t think I could play the girl the guy fell in love with.” Really, Mod is paying it all forward now.

49. Stacey Solomon

The singer and X Factor presenter is known for her warm and personable charm, as well as her openness in discussing anxiety and mental health (Getty Images for The Peanut App)
The singer and X Factor presenter is known for her warm and personable charm, as well as her openness in discussing anxiety and mental health (Getty Images for The Peanut App)

Queen of the Jungle, Loose Women host, author, social media influencer and mother-of-five, Stacey Solomon is a productivity powerhouse. The singer and X Factor presenter is known for her warm and personable charm, as well as her openness in discussing anxiety and mental health. The mumfluencer does not shy away from sharing the unfiltered parts of her life. Known to her social media supporters as a home organisation expert, the TV personality has taken to BBC 1 to present the show Sort Your Life Out where she applies her knowledge to transform family homes through decluttering.

50. Lashana Lynch

Most recently, she’s been praised for her portrayal of Rita Marley in Bob Marley: One Love, a role she has described as a “dream” (EPA)
Most recently, she’s been praised for her portrayal of Rita Marley in Bob Marley: One Love, a role she has described as a “dream” (EPA)

From warm-hearted teacher in the musical adaptation of Matilda to the first ever female 007 agent in No Time to Die to a nineteenth-century warrior in The Woman King, London-born actor Lashana Lynch refuses to be typecast. Instead, the 36-year-old, who was crowned Bafta’s Rising Star in 2021, has balanced parts in superhero blockbusters (she plays Air Force pilot Maria Rambeau in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) with turns in hard-hitting, topical drama (she starred in the screen adaptation of ear for eye, debbie tucker green’s play about racial injustice, having previously appeared in the stage version). Most recently, she’s been praised for her portrayal of Rita Marley in Bob Marley: One Love, a role she has described as a “dream”. Whatever’s next for her, we’ll be taking our seats in the cinema to see it.

Additional reporting for IWD list was done by: Maya Oppenheim, Caroline Gammell, Chloe Hubbard, Victoria Richards, Philippa Jenkins, Jessie Thompson, Ellie Muir, Katie Rosseinsky, Annabel Nugent, Helen Coffey, Maira Butt, Rebecca Thomas, Holly Bancroft, Tara Cobham, Jack Rathborn, Rod Ardehali, Jamie Braidwood, Zoe Grunewald, Archie Mitchell, Howard Mustoe

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