THERE is a motivational internet meme that reads: "You have the same number of hours in a day as Beyonce." A quick glance at the CV of Jacqui Low might tempt one to think that the businesswoman is squeezing in a few more than the rest of us.

Low has been a special adviser to former Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth, is a trusted confidante to EuroMillions lottery winners Colin and Christine Weir, and has become the first woman to join the board at Partick Thistle in the club's 141-year history.

She was there in the aftermath of the Lockerbie bombing, Piper Alpha disaster and Dunblane massacre, has stood for parliament, and borne witness to behind-the-scenes political meltdowns and melodrama that would have Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It reaching for a Valium.

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That is merely scratching the surface of the proverbial iceberg. Low, however, has built her reputation on discretion (it was touch and go as to whether she would do this interview at all) and, by her own admission, has "never felt comfortable with being the story".

Today, as we sit in the Leith offices of her communications consultancy Indigo, she is front and centre. With a soft laugh and mock terrified grimace, Low expresses last-minute misgivings about laying her life bare.

Low, 55, grew up in Kirkcaldy, Fife, her father Bill the first in his family not to become a miner. He got a job as an electrician at Rosyth Dockyard and had barely turned 20 when he bought his own home, something, says Low, which was "outwith the ken of anybody around him".

That stoic ambition was passed on to his eldest daughter. Even at an early age, Low knew she didn't want a "normal" life. "When I was seven I decided I wanted to be on the radio. I had been given a Hitachi cassette player and would make my own programmes. I would do the news, DJing, sing the songs and jingles – the whole thing.

"I'm from a very working-class background. I didn't live in a world where people had those aspirations. Even though I didn't know anybody in the media and no idea how to break into that field, I was brought up with a dad whose attitude was 'you can be anything you want to be.'"

Low got her start at the VRN hospital radio station in Kirkcaldy at 16 and was soon producing a half-hour news programme. A year later she applied for a trainee reporter job at a local paper but recounts being turned down on the grounds she would "distract" her male colleagues.

"This was the late 70s," she says. "My dad had driven me to the interview and I remember crying in the car afterwards and saying to him: 'Do I not wear make-up? Do I stop painting my nails?' And he turned to me and said: 'You don't change anything.' His message was always be true to yourself."

Low gives a wry smile when asked how pivotal that moment proved. "I think some people would refer to me as being a fully paid-up member of the awkward squad," she says. "It has always been about being true to myself, honesty and integrity.

"Those things matter more and more the further on you are in your career. They are a currency and if you blow them early on for the sake of achievement, you will end up nowhere."

After graduating from Edinburgh University with an MA (Gen), Low landed a job at Radio Tay in Dundee working alongside a young Eddie Mair. "There I was at 22 fulfilling my life's ambition," she grins. "I loved it. I learned about Scotland in a broader sense. I had fun."

After three-and-half-years, Low got itchy feet. Then almost 26, she faced a crossroads. Having achieved her childhood dream, what next? "I applied for a job at the old Scottish Office as an information officer with absolutely no idea what the job was about."

Part of her role involved handling communications during civil emergencies. On December 21, 1988 Low returned home from Christmas shopping and switched on the radio as news of the Lockerbie bombing was breaking.

"I heard the first bulletin which said that it was believed a plane had come down somewhere in the south-west of Scotland," she recalls. "I turned to my husband and said: 'I have to go to work'. As I was leaving my pager went off."

Low and her colleagues worked through the night handling calls from the press and public. "There was one gentleman who said: 'I'm trying to reach my mum who lives in Sherwood Crescent and I can't raise her. I live in London. I don't know whether to come up.'

"At that point I knew a large part of Sherwood Crescent had effectively been vaporised and didn't exist anymore. But I couldn't tell him that or give any clue as to what had happened."

Low was also on duty the night of the Piper Alpha disaster five months earlier which saw 167 killed on the North Sea oil rig. She remembers taking the call from Grampian Police to say they were setting up a mortuary at the landing site.

"You are so busy in the moment that you're not taking in the scale of what's happening," she says. "It was at that point it registered that this was major and genuinely a disaster."

Disaster is a word that Low never uses lightly. "When a potential client comes to me and says: 'we have a disaster', I will ask: 'has anybody died?' I have worked in situations that are disasters and where lives have been lost. I tell people: 'I can fix most things, but I can't bring anybody back.'"

After five years working for the Scottish Office, Low found herself craving normality. "One Sunday I was on-call, with a small child and had burnt lunch twice because I was answering calls from the media. I thought: 'I need to get a life …'

She recalls another occasion being at a Christmas party and waving a hasty goodbye to her hosts before hotfooting it to the 24-hour siege at HM Perth during December 1992 where Low "sat overnight with my colleague playing 87 hands of bastard brag" until the situation was resolved.

An 18-month stint in a nine-to-five role at Standard Life was enough to dissuade her of the notion of a quiet life. Low realised "normal wasn't all it was cracked up to be".

Fate would intervene when she bumped into Graeme Carter, the then head of media and research for the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party. "He was off to London to work as special advisor to Malcolm Rifkind and asked if I was looking for a job."

Her interest was piqued. A few sleepless nights followed as Low contemplated the offer until finally a friend gave her the immortal advice: "'Jacqui, you couldn't make it any worse …'" She bites back a smile. "And in the time I was there we [the Tory party] went on to lose every single election."

Yet, Low was back where she belonged: in the thick of it. "My next job was actually doing the Malcolm Tucker role," she says, referring to her appointment as special adviser to Michael Forsyth.

"Over that period I probably swore just as much as Malcolm Tucker. It was a high-pressure, demanding and constant role that I would not have changed for anything."

However, it was a time preceded by huge personal tragedy for Low. "I lost a baby daughter in 1995. She was stillborn. We had been planning for our second child to join the family and it wasn't just the rug that was pulled from beneath my feet, it turned my life in a different direction on all fronts.

"I was a strong person and until then believed that everyone else could – and should – suck it up and be as strong as me. Don't let personal life come to work. But when Stephanie died I learned that humanity and compassion go hand in hand with being good at your job."

There's a catch in her voice. "My daughter had a spinal issue that meant she was never going to live very long," she says. "I didn't know about folic acid and that I should have been taking it before becoming pregnant."

Low had done some work for the now Baron Forsyth of Drumlean during his time as education minister. She approached him about the need for a public health campaign to raise awareness on the importance of folic acid in preventing birth defects.

A meeting was set up with the chief medical officer and senior health officials. Her impassioned personal account, says Low, clearly struck a chord.

When Forsyth was looking for a new special advisor he came to her. "It felt like the right change in direction to do something that challenged and pushed me out my comfort zone again," she recalls.

Low became the first Scottish woman to do the role and more than a few jaws dropped. "The Scotsman ran a few front pages speculating with a list of men," she says. "The day the announcement was made it was as if the world had ended.

"There was one article that read: 'This is Jacqui Low and [former Labour spin doctor] Alastair Campbell, you don't know their names or who they are, but you should because they are the people who are influencing your lives …'"

Yet, nothing could take the shine off a personal triumph. "When I went to St Andrew's House on my first day there was a brown envelope waiting on my desk and inside a note from Michael saying: 'We have brought the campaign forward for folic acid and this is the first pack ...'" Tears prick her eyes, Low instantly back in that moment.

There was another reminder of the fragility of life when the Dunblane massacre unfolded on March 13, 1996, gunman Thomas Hamilton killing 16 children and their teacher. After visiting the town with Forsyth, Low flew to London and worked through the night.

As a haggard-looking Forsyth addressed the packed House of Commons the next day, Low sat in the officials' box near the government benches. "I've seen the footage since and my face was buried in a hanky," she says. "It was emotional. There was an air of unreality about it all."

We sit in silence for a few moments before Low takes up the thread again. It is 20 years this week since she found herself out of a job as Labour swept to power in a general election landslide. It was a strange feeling but views that as simply the harsh reality of politics. "It is brutal. You are in or you are out. There is no soft exit. And we were out."

Her time in politics wasn't over. In 1999, Low ran as a Tory candidate for Edinburgh Central for the maiden Scottish Parliament, finishing fourth. "I think I would have enjoyed being an MSP," she muses. "But what's for you doesn't go past you."

A year later Low made headlines when she resigned from the party's ruling executive. As news of her departure broke during the 2000 Scottish Conservative Party conference in Dundee, it was attributed to Low's growing unease over "mismanagement by the leadership".

She claims that particular quote was leaked to the media by a fellow party member to whom Low had confided her concerns. That said, she asserts: "I did leave because I was unhappy with the way that things were being managed and behaviours displayed that I did not like.

"I take no prisoners in my style and therefore I accepted the blows and any attacks as part of the game," she continues. "But I'd had enough and resigned. That was really the end of my involvement with the party and I've never looked back."

There are echoes of a climber who isn't content until all of the world's highest peaks are conquered in her insatiable drive. "I do feel like a mountaineer," she admits. "When I hit 50 I thought: 'At what point do you stop wanting a new challenge?'

"I look at what is coming next as a mountain that has to be climbed. I get to the top, beaten and bloodied on occasion, take a deep breath and say: 'Oh, there's another mountain.' I will be climbing mountains for the rest of my life."

Her many hats include chairman of the Fife Society for the Blind, a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and trustee for the Weir Charitable Trust founded by millionaire couple Colin and Christine Weir.

I've been given a three-line whip beforehand by Low's publicist not to broach the subject of the latter. If Low is irked I've mentioned it, she doesn't flinch. "I have an advisory role to [the Weirs] as and when they are looking for a bit of advice," she says.

"They still receive a lot of requests for help. They are decent people who have handled all of this with dignity and a lot of humour. I'm an advisor – they make their own decisions – and we are friends."

In 2015, Low became the first woman to hold a boardroom position at Partick Thistle and one of only three female directors in the Scottish Premiership. She describes it as her proudest achievement and is keen to be at the forefront of addressing gender balance and parity across sport.

When the club approached her to say they were looking for a new board member, Low thought they needed help to find someone. "But [Partick Thistle chairman David Beattie] said: 'No, we mean you,'" she recalls. "I was taken aback. It took me months to say yes."

Low was wary of being seen as the "token" woman, but after shadowing the board for the remainder of the season was satisfied the dynamic worked. "I'm not sure I would have fitted in at every club. There is something about the place and people that is quirky, genuine and passionate."

She believes her appointment reflects a positive change. "In football there is banter, but it is about knowing there is a line and I've yet to be in a situation where anyone has crossed that. I have had nothing but respect. I hope that is because I do my job well, do it with humour and with a regard for the history and heritage of the game."

Her biggest influence, says Low, is her mother. It is an answer that she admits will surprise many who know her. Low has been estranged from her parents for some years. She is reticent to be drawn on their fractured relationship for fear of opening a fresh wound.

However, she does allude to how it has shaped the mother-child relationship with her 25-year-old son Ross. "She had a difficult upbringing so wasn't always the best mum. But seeing the mistakes she had made has helped me be a good mum."

Low recently reduced her work and charity commitments to spend more time with family including her two-year-old granddaughter.

"She has a Partick Thistle top and Partick Thistle ball," she says, proudly. "We play football together. Whenever she hears the words 'Partick Thistle', she runs to find her football and glass slippers. She then plays football in her glass slippers."

Cinderella in a man's world could be an analogy for Low's own life, although it is breaking glass ceilings rather than glass slippers in which she has found her calling.