Passed/Failed: An education in the life of David Lewis, Lord Mayor of the City of London

'Amazingly, I was made head boy'


David Lewis, 60, is the 680th Lord Mayor of the City of London and the Alderman for Broad Street, the ward of the real Dick Whittington. His entire career has been working for the corporate law firm Norton Rose

My father went to Malaya as a humble teacher, was locked up with his brothers in a Japanese POW camp, and then became head of education. I went to the Army School in Singapore, which was part of Malaya in those days, and every morning a three-ton lorry used to collect the boys and girls in our street. I don't think I learnt much.

It was a huge shock when my parents retired early to the UK and I was sent, at eight, as a boarder to the Dragon School in Oxford. I was behind the others, and in my first term, was bottom of the school in every single subject. (I'm now chairman of the governors, and everybody keeps reminding me of that.) Gradually, with much help and prodding, I moved up the class and began to enjoy Latin, Greek and history. I was taught classics by the headmaster, Keith Ingram – "Inky". You called the masters by their nicknames to their faces: it's a bit eccentric, but I insist on it now. Amazingly, I was appointed head boy in my last term but nearly screwed up by organising a pillow fight involving 70 boys at 4am.

At St Edward's, my public school in Oxford, I continued only to do enough to just get by academically. Despite being a corporate account lawyer for 38 years, I've always found maths extremely difficult. I passed maths and chemistry O-level at the lowest grade; in my chemistry practical, the Bunsen burner destroyed the test tube. My Latin and Greek got starred grades but the classics master said, "You're not scholarship material in classics".

I took three A-levels: history, history with foreign texts and English. History with foreign texts was the most interesting; it was history written in Latin and French. My two history teachers, John Todd and Malcolm Oxley, changed my life. The value they added to my education will never appear in any league table, but with their help I just scraped into Jesus College, Oxford.

My father, who came from a Welsh-speaking family of poor tenant sheep farmers in Carmarthenshire, had won a scholarship to Jesus and graduated in 1926, the year of the General Strike. My son failed to get into Jesus – but got a first in classics at King's College London.

In my day, law was a subject in which it was easier to get into Oxford. I knew nothing about law but I remember the first paper I studied for was criminal law and we started with murder. I thought, "This is interesting!".

For me, Latin lived on in Roman law. International law was interesting, as at the time Southern Rhodesia was declaring UDI. I began to work very hard for the first time in my life.

Having done Finals, I was very surprised to be called for a viva voce [oral examination] for borderline candidates. You went into this awful room with six or seven professors and dons who had set the exams. They fired questions at me for half an hour and then sent me out while they discussed my performance. This was repeated twice, so it took 90 minutes. I have always been a pessimist and thought I was on the borderline for a Third or a Second. If I'd known I was actually up for a First, I would have been rather more confident, which was what they were looking for.

Finally, I was told that I had been awarded the best Second of the year but had failed the viva for a First. It was rather like Mastermind; I was terrified and had experienced the worst 90 minutes of my life.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power