Baroness Dido Harding of Winscombe, 53, grew up on a pig farm in Somerset and is the granddaughter of Field Marshal Lord Harding, the commander of the Desert Rats who became the highest ranking soldier in the British Army.
A former jockey, she studied Policy, Politics and Economics at Oxford University alongside David Cameron and is the wife of John Penrose, the Conservative MP for Weston-super-Mare.
After graduating, she held a range of positions at Thomas Cook, Woolworths, Tesco and Sainsbury’s.
Baroness Harding was appointed CEO of TalkTalk in 2010, where she was the victim of a cyberattack for seven years that saw the personal and banking information of 157,000 customers accessed by hackers.
Baroness Harding is a former jockey, although she retired from racing after reaching 40 and vowing to stop her husband
She studied Policy, Politics and Economics at Oxford University alongside David Cameron and is married to John Penrose, Conservative MP for Weston-super-Mare
She was subjected to repeated blackmail attempts after the hack, with demands for Bitcoins in exchange for stolen data, including customer names, email addresses, mobile numbers, home addresses and dates of birth.
In the aftermath, TalkTalk was fined a record £400,000 for security flaws that allowed the data to be accessed ‘with ease’ in one of the largest data breaches in history.
TalkTalk is said to have lost £60m to the fallout, with an estimated 100,000 angry customers leaving, mostly to BT, while profits halved to £14m in 2015 and shares lost nearly two-thirds of their value.
Baroness Harding faced repeated calls to resign over the split, but stayed on until 2017, when she resigned to focus on her “public service” activities.
Later that year, she was appointed Chair of NHS Improvement, responsible for overseeing all NHS hospitals.
She refuses to believe that her gender has ever held her back, nor will she approve women’s quotas on boards of directors, which she sees as political interference.
She also finds that employees take too much maternity leave despite admitting she’s the boss, which allows her to successfully combine her own career with spending time with the two daughters she has with her husband.
She said in an interview in 2015: ‘I am in a very privileged position.
“I make a lot of money – a matter of disclosure – I have a huge amount of help, and I have more control over the day and what I do than someone who works in shifts at the register or the product department in a supermarket.”
Baroness Harding has also wrapped up a career as a jockey, which saw her make appearances at Cheltenham, Ascot and even the towering Grand National jumps at Aintree.
A particularly nasty blow to the sticks at Larkhill left her tied to a spinal board — though she was still able to catch a flight to a conference in Thailand the next day.
But at age 24, she made a brash promise to her husband: She would give it all up at age 40.
When the date came, Penrose, who hadn’t forgotten, made it clear that breaking the deal was a deal breaker for the marriage.
Harding obliges, but still races with no jumps.
“I really miss racing,” she admitted earlier. “If you’d told me I could go tomorrow afternoon, I would. For me, that’s always been my way of shutting everything down and relaxing.’