My secret life: Alain de Botton

Writer & philosopher, 39

When I was a child I wanted to be ... an architect. I'm trying to get back to a spontaneity and sense of freedom that I was fully in control of at the age of five.

My greatest inspirations are ... Norman Mailer, Geoff Dyer and Roland Barthes. I'm interested in writing that takes in the great questions. I'm curious as to whether you can be profound in the course of reporting the incidents of everyday life.

The moment that changed me for ever ... At the age of 23 I realised I had to make a choice between writing the sort of things I wanted to write, and the sort of things that an academy would demand of me. I took the riskier road.

I drive ... a grey Mark IV four-door Golf.

If I could change one thing about myself ... I'd grow more hair and try to be less mortal.

My real-life villains ... Property developers who build ugly, thoughtless stuff.

At night I dream of ... failure. I dream of chapters I haven't written and things that I forgot to say in books I wrote three or seven years ago.

What I see when I look in the mirror is ... him again. I feel the pain of dragging around the same old person, always being forced to defend him, trying to like him and to make the best of him.

My style icons ... are the people from 'Monocle' magazine. They manage to be stylish while maintaining an almost Oscar Wildean campness in their approach.

The shop I can't walk past ... is a good juice bar ... and Waterstone's.

A book that changed me ... Roland Barthes' 'Camera Lucida'.

The last album I bought ... Natalie Merchant's 'Ophelia'. I am in love with Merchant's voice, and hence, her being.

The person who really makes me laugh is ... Arthur Schopenhauer. He's deeply pessimistic, and pessimism is funny. "A man should swallow a toad every morning if he is to be sure of not meeting with anything more disgusting in the day ahead," he once said.

It's not fashionable but I like ... cars, especially VWs. Barthes famously said that the Citroen DS (in his time, one of the best cars) represented the fruit of the collective intelligence of his age. The same could be said of the modern Golf.

My favourite item of clothing ... is a charcoal grey V-neck jumper. A few years ago, I started wearing this as a uniform of sorts. It has removed all my anxieties about clothing. I now know what I'll be wearing in both summer and winter.

My favourite work of art ... is Vermeer's 'The Little Street'. It conveys an atmosphere of calm and domesticity, brings one down to earth, and makes home seem like an arena where interesting things might happen.

You wouldn't know it but I'm good at ... interior design. I would love to design your house for you. At night, I sketch designs for King's Cross, new versions of the British Library, and new versions of my kitchen.

You may not know it but I'm no good at ... staying calm and wise. I wouldn't be so drawn to wisdom and calm in literature if I didn't find these qualities so fragile in myself.

All my money goes on ... books and family. Money for me is all about freedom and time, and being able to say "no" sometimes to deeply unpleasant things.

If I have time to myself ... I read magazines, or gaze out of the window and try to think. I rarely read books for pleasure. Reading is always work in one way or another.

My house ... is cosy but a little too full of children's toys.

My most valuable possession is ... a painting I own of a plane by the artist Michael Andrews.

My favourite building ... Herzog and de Meuron's Laban Dance centre in Deptford. It's irreverent, playful, elegant and serene.

Movie heaven ... would be a cycle of the French director Eric Rohmer's films.

The best invention ever ... Painkillers.

I wish I'd never worn ... so much green.

In 10 years' time, I hope to be ... still alive and hopeful.

My greatest regret ... Not training to be an architect.

My life in six words ... Fear, anxiety, longing, love, art, beauty.

A life in brief

Alain de Botton was born in Zurich in 1969. A writer and broadcaster on philosophical matters, his books have been bestsellers in 30 countries, and include How Proust Can Change Your Life and The Architecture of Happiness. He lives in London with his wife, Charlotte, and their two sons. His latest book, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, is published by Hamish Hamilton

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Project Manager (Procurement & Human Resources)

Unpaid: Cancer Research UK: If you’re a professional in project management, lo...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star