At 16, I got ungraded O-level English language - which, for a writer, must be something of a record - but then I got two As and a B in my A- levels. What I liked was drawing, and I blagged my way into St Martin's School of Art in London. I did my interview in my pyjamas, so that they wouldn't notice I hadn't got any work to show.
In the second year, one of my tutors said "You're a copywriter". I thought that meant I was bad at design. But it was true that what I really liked was thinking of something smart to say, and setting it in a fancy typeface.
So I bought the Design & Art Direction books - which have in them the best ads of the year - and found that the ads I always liked were by David Abbott. And, having done a two-week work placement at his agency, Abbott Mead Vickers, I decided I wanted to work for him. There was an ad for Volvo with a hitch-hiking student holding a sign which said "Cambridge - Volvo preferred", so I stood outside David Abbott's house with a sign saying "AMV - Volvo preferred". The first day he didn't see me, but the second he picked me up in his Volvo and took me into the office - but he wouldn't give me a job because he thought my work was no good.
But I had a portfolio of rough ads, and at college I'd won a prize for one of my headlines, which read: "Some women are too embarrassed to have a cervical smear test. Last year 2,000 women died of embarrassment". So I did the D&AD evening course, where you receive a brief and then go into an advertising agency and show them your work - and I got a job at Delaney Fletcher Delaney. I started in 1985, doing trade ads, and found I was quite good at it. And I loved the idea of someone wanting to give you money for just sitting thinking of silly jokes.
After three years there, I went to an agency called Woollams Moira Gaskin O'Malley. That was a miserable time, but, after 18 months, a guy I'd met at Delaneys rescued me to go and work at Wight Collins Rutherford Scott.
What I did there was the electricity privatisation campaign. My partner and I won that business, and went from earning pounds 15,000 to about pounds 50,000. That's where I learnt to do my job: we made 22 commercials, working every day for seven weeks and, when the Gulf war broke out, we had to keep changing the scripts because all our jokes were about dead people. We sold pounds 5bn worth of shares, it was a huge success.
But I still wanted to work at AMV, so I sent a tape to them of all the ads I'd done - and finally got a job as a junior copywriter. Since then I've worked on campaigns for Volvo, Pizza Hut, BT, Cellnet and the RSPCA, and my partner and I have won a lot of prizes.
Two years ago, I was offered quite a good job somewhere else, which I didn't want, but I wanted to find out what David Abbott thought. He agreed to see me, and made me deputy creative director. Three months ago, I was made creative director. I've got no talent for anything else, yet my strange combination of being able to write and having a vague understanding of what motivates people is perfect for this job.Reuse content