AS the Cornmill Centre in Darlington celebrates its 20th anniversary Business Editor Andy Richardson hears from centre manager Susan Young, 40, about her life in retail.

WHEN the phone rings in the early hours it seldom brings good news.

It was shortly before 1am on Friday, August 15 2008 when a voice on Susan Youngs mobile told her that the King's Hotel in Darlington was ablaze.

"My immediate reaction was yeah right. But, it quickly dawned on me this was not a wind up. I jumped in my car and within minutes could see for myself the flames lighting up the sky and the police roadblock."

The emergency services evacuated hotel guests and prevented the flames from spreading to adjacent buildings such as the Cornmill shopping centre.

The challenge facing Susan and her colleagues was to get the centre ready for business.

The volume of water used to tame the fire meant that some shops were flood damaged and shut for several months. But most traders were eager to reassure shoppers that it was business as usual.

"Our priority was to make the centre as inviting as possible. Having scaffolding everywhere and some units closed can deter people. It was a frantic time and you run on pure adrenaline at times like that," she recalled.

Managing the aftermath of the blaze was the most extreme example of the job Susan has been doing since she started at the Cornmill in 1994 on placement from a marketing degree at Northumbria University. Apart from a short spell working at Northern Rocks headquarters near where she was raised in Gosforth, Newcastle, she has been at the site in Darlingtons town centre ever since.

Has she ever been tempted to leave?

"There have been offers but I have never seriously considered them. Maybe if I got the call from Dubai Id struggle to say no because the centres over there are amazing.

"But I love it here. Ive a great team around me. The centre has grown. We had the extension with TK Maxx and the car park. Next and Primark are here. Its a nice-sized centre and Ive plenty to keep me out of mischief."

The recession has killed off scores of major retailers in recent years. Susan is proud to note that only three of the Cornmills units are vacant and one of those is set to have a new occupant before Christmas.

She regards the prospect of adding Debenhams to her empire as "a major coup for the centre and for the town." The department store chain has agreed a deal in principle to convert The Northern Echos offices on Priestgate into a flagship store.

"We cant wait for Debenhams. They have always wanted to be in Darlington and it will be great for us. Speaking to customers in the centre they are excited about it too. It will help take us to the next level."

Five minutes with Susan Young

1 Favourite North-East building and why?

Bamburgh Castle. Growing up my parents had a caravan in Bamburgh and the castle always formed the backdrop of summer holiday adventures with my friend Lisa.

2 What was your first job and how much did you get paid?

I was a Saturday girl at Gelders the Bakers in Gosforth and was paid 1.12 per hour.

3 What is the worst job you've had?

When I was a student in Edinburgh I worked as an usherette at the Playhouse. Whilst it was a good laugh, having to watch the same show 15 times really put me off - I can still remember the words to songs from the musical Me and My Girl 20 years later.

4 What would you cook for me if I came around for dinner?

A pasta dish as Im feeling inspired after watching the show Simply Italian.

5 What would your superpower be?

To be able to fly, I hate waiting around in airports.

6 Name four people, dead or alive, who would be at your perfect dinner party.

Eddie Izzard, Peter Ustinov, Joan Rivers and Derren Brown.

7 What is the most expensive thing you've bought - other than car or house - and how much did it cost?

A Bradley Wiggins framed signed cycling shirt as a Christmas present for my Dad (so I cant tell you how much it cost). Needless to say I was a wee bit upset when he informed me a couple of weeks ago after Wiggins had recently won the Tour de France 2012 and the Olympic Gold that it had been hung in direct sunlight and the signature had faded.

8 Who is the best person to follow on Twitter and why?

Pete Barron for the local news and Alan Carr for the hilarious pictures he posts.

9 Favourite book?

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, I picked it up in an airport a few years ago because I liked the colour of the front cover and couldnt put it down. Ive reread it about three times.

10 When did you last cry?

When I tripped over my iron and broke my toe.

11 What is your greatest achievement?

I don't know really. I think perhaps I'm still trying.

12 What's the best piece of advice in business you've ever been given?

ont ask anyone to do something that you would not be prepared to do yourself.

13 Favourite animal and why?

My Springer spaniel, Bertie. He always make me smile when he bounces through the fields. He reminds me of Zebedee from the Magic Roundabout.

14 Most famous person on your mobile phone.

The winner of the first ever Masterchef TV show in 1990! Shes a family friend.

15 What was the last band you saw live?

The Feeling, on a hillside in France.

16 Describe your perfect night in.

A glass of wine and a catch up with friends.

17 In another life I would be...

Simon Cowells wife.

18 Who would play you in a film of your life?

Doris Day - with three broken bones in a year Im a total Calamity Jane.

19 What irritates you?

White socks and black's wrong on every level.

20 What's your secret talent?

After I few glasses of wine I'm an alright singer.