YEARS ago there was a Glasgow tabloid football reporter named Fiona Hill. The story goes that she was once banned by a football club for asking the manager awkward questions.

It would be interesting to know what that luckless manager thinks of his inquisitor now. Fiona Hill (formerly Cunningham), who later worked at The Scotsman and Sky News, is now one of Theresa May's joint Chiefs of Staff.

She and Nick Timothy, the other Chief of Staff, were both special advisers to May at the Home Office. An article in The Spectator last summer captures the atmosphere in the Home Secretary's offices at the time: "Civil servants in the Home Office, even the senior ones, always felt a little nervous when walking towards Theresa May’s office. It wasn’t so much the meeting with the Home Secretary that they dreaded as the characters who lurked in the room directly outside hers.

"One senior official describes a typical scene: Fiona Hill, one of May’s special advisers, ‘sitting back, getting ready to go out with her stockinged feet on the desk, giving a civil servant an absolute rollicking'."

Hill, 43, went to a Catholic comprehensive in Greenock before entering journalism. At The Scotsman she befriended Laura Collins, now at the Daily Mail. Collins recalls that she and Hill once planned a weekend in Dublin. "It started by us missing a couple of flights by virtue of being late to the airport and then falling asleep at the gate, missing repeated calls to board.

"But in the time that we were at the airport, which was essentially most of the day, Fiona decided to take a trip to Duty Free and spent our entire budget on champagne and a handbag. She blew the budget."

After Sky News Hill landed a job at the Conservative Party press office. In 2010 she and Timothy were employed as Spads – special advisers – to May when she arrived at the Home Office.

Norman Baker, a Liberal Democrat minister in the same department, speaks of his "baptism of fire" at the hands of the duo: "Within 24 hours they had been responsible for briefing the press and doing a hatchet job on me. So I had a very interesting welcome to the Home Office".

Both were fiercely loyal to May as Home Secretary. In 2014, however, Hill had to resign after being caught up in an ugly dispute over Islamic extremism in schools between the Home Office and Michael Gove's people at the Department of Education. Reports suggested that she had been briefing against Gove's department.

In September 2015 she joined Lexington Communications as a director, but took time off last summer to work on May’s Tory leadership campaign after David Cameron stepped down in the wake of the Brexit vote. In July, May brought her back as joint Chief of Staff.

It has been widely acknowledged that Hill and Timothy are a remarkably effective team, incapable of suffering fools badly, although concern has also been expressed that they wield too much power for people who have never faced the electorate.

Two months ago Hill again made the headlines when the so-called "trousergate" row broke out. Former education secretary Nicky Morgan criticised May's choice of £995 Burberry leather trousers for a photoshoot. According to leaked text messages, Hill responded by texting Tory MP Alistair Burt, asking him not to bring “that woman” to Number 10 again. This came to Morgan's notice. She texted Hill to say that “no man brings me to any meeting”. “Well, he just did,” Hill replied tartly. “So there!”

Much has also been made of Hill's personality in her current role and her approach to other people. She has been described as "her closest adviser and most ferocious defender", and as “pugilistic” and “terrifying”. She is said to be "Theresa's bruiser-in-chief" and "Theresa's rottweiler". One minister has noted that "Fiona would walk across a busy street to start a fight if she thought someone was trying to damage Theresa".

Some who know Hill, however, object to what they see as a sexist categorisation of her. Telegraph writer James Kirkup, an old colleague and friend of hers since they worked together pre-Westminster, wrote a thoughtful piece last October about the different ways in which Hill and Timothy were written about. He analysed several examples and concluded: "You can see the narrative emerging, can’t you? Mr Timothy is the thoughtful chap who does the intellectual stuff for Mrs May. Ms Hill is a shouty, shallow woman who does shoes and emotion".

Kirkup added: "Ms Hill may not have written as many published words about policy or political philosophy as Mr Timothy, but it is, I suggest, unwise to overlook her role in developing Mrs May’s thinking on questions of politics and policy. It’s probably fair to say that Mrs May only talks about modern slavery because of Ms Hill."

Human trafficking is a pet project of Hill's. It is a subject to which has given endless thought to. Last December, May addressed regional leaders of the Gulf states at a high-level meeting in Bahrain, and she used the opportunity to hammer out a deal over tackling modern slavery.

Apart from May, reports said, there were only two women in a room packed with dozens of men – a female UAE delegate and, sitting directly behind May, Fiona Hill.