I was a bespectacled, clever little girl, and it was obvious that I was university material. My school in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, put me up for Oxford; nobody from the school had been there before.

I was summoned to Oxford for an interview. I got off the train, and wandered around the buildings, and thought, golly, I've never seen anything like this] It was spectacular and I fell in love with it; the idea of spending three years there reading books was just so seductive.

The girls coming up for interview at the same time as me all seemed to know each other. They were from Benenden and Roedean, and they appeared incredibly confident and wore wonderful, expensive clothes. I sat with them in the junior common room in my thick glasses and homemade jade-green suit, feeling awful.

I had a funny accent, because when I left Liverpool at 14, I had done my level best to get a Wiltshire accent, so I had this bizarre hybrid that I don't like to think about.

There were two very brisk female dons in charge of the interview, they were terrifying. The language they used was cerebral, abstract. When we talked about Shakespeare, I realised you didn't say, 'I liked King Lear - it made me cry,' which was the kind of thing I tended to say; instead you were supposed to talk about 'the structure of suffering'.

I felt muddier and muddier. I just didn't speak the language. I was hopeless, completely tongue-tied and inarticulate. And after 10 minutes, rather like King Lear, I wanted to run howling from the room.

A telegram was supposed to arrive saying whether you had got a place, and the days passed but no telegram came. And the school that was so proud of me, and convinced that I jolly well ought to get into St Hilda's, rang up the college - which told them the bitter truth, that I had just not performed well at interview. So that was that.

I was bitterly disappointed, and I took to my bed for a couple of days . . . I kept thinking my parents would have been so proud.

I had also applied to University College London, and I came up to London and had a wonderful interview with a man and a woman who were kind and friendly, and I remember the female don admired my suit - the same suit I had worn at Oxford - and I got a place there.

I didn't get into a hall of residence; there weren't enough places - another stroke of fate against me, because people in halls were very happy - and it would have transformed my first year.

The university arranged my digs. They had sent mum and dad the address, and we drove up from Trowbridge the day before term started. We weren't the sort of people to go and suss it out beforehand, we were obedient: this was where I had to go, so we went.

No 1 Liverpool Road, Islington, turned out to be a pub called the Pied Bull, which was really rough. I was completely horror struck: we were not a pubby sort of family, and the idea of living in a pub in Islington was not how I imagined university - not after seeing the dreaming spires of Oxford. I had a hideous, hideous room with pea- green gloss walls, really horrible furniture and no table. My parents plucked up the courage to ask the pub owners if I might have a table, and, begrudgingly, this rickety table was put in the room.

When my mother and father drove off and left me, I promptly burst into tears.

Eventually, I moved to a bedsit in Muswell Hill, a tiny little bedsit, and that was very isolating because I lived on my own.

I never seemed to make friends; the people I did meet were guys who wanted to get me into bed - and from time to time succeeded, I have to say, more out of loneliness on my part than lust. There wasn't a single person I felt I could talk to.

But at the beginning of the second year, something happened that was to change everything. I met Jonathan Dimbleby and we immediately hit it off, and three months later we got married, and loneliness ended totally.

I still feel wistful about not going to Oxford, I think my whole life would have been different.

Bel Mooney is a writer and broadcaster.

(Photograph omitted)

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