How did school affect famous people’s careers


3 November 2014 by Jonathan Sale

For 15 years, Jonathan Sale interviewed the famous about their school years for a column in ‘The Independent’. Here’s what he discovered about how triumph or failure, diligence or dissent, shaped their working lives.


Over a 15-year period, I have been engaged in a weekly series of interviews, mainly for The Independent, on memories of school and, where applicable, art school, drama school and university.

Drawing on these memories, I have compiled a kaleidoscope of experiences that contributed to their development and careers. Some of these incidents are unique.

One of the most reassuring tales comes from Queen’s lead guitarist, Brian May. His father was most worried when Brian, after a successful school and university career, was finishing his PhD on interstellar dust – and suddenly declared he was abandoning both thesis and financial security by joining a band. It turned out that he was exchanging stardust for rock stardom and Queen got to the top. Decades later, Brian blew the dust off his thesis. It passed.

The lesson to be learnt from this is that there is a point where parents have to take a back seat as children work out the route of their lives and careers. This is not, of course, to say that we should allow four-year-olds to play on motorways if they feel like it, but that we have to let 20-year-olds get behind the steering wheel.