"I'm a grown-up now," I thought at the age of four when I went to Ryebrook, a nursery school in Ashtead, Surrey. "In the big league."
But really it was just a big house. My first proper school was West Ashtead primary, where I had an extremely happy childhood. I was a sweet child and quite fortunate in bonding with the teachers. I edited The School Times, which had six pages and wasn't very good. Some people started a competing magazine, but it didn't have our staying power (about three issues).
I was not considered terribly bright in my early years. I didn't get straight through the 11-plus but was a marginal case. After an interview, I got into what was Dorking Grammar for my first three years, then became a comprehensive, The Ashcombe School. It proved to be a game of two halves. During the first period, it was a fairly happy, classic mixed grammar school. The merger with the girls' secondary modern next door was fairly turbulent, a bit of a mess, and I got the feeling the staff were making it up as they went along. It became much too big to get everyone into one room for assembly, and the teachers didn't always know each other's names.
I think the situation rather suited me. I was intrigued to see how it all worked out. I always liked change. I remember when the currency went decimal, I practically cacked my pants, I was so excited.
A formative experience for me was the daily 12-minute train ride to school with the same group of people. We were precocious and spent the time arguing about politics. Another formative experience was the arts festival in which we put on Loose Ends, a rock opera about a stuck-up grammar-school teacher, played by me.
Probably my nastiest experience was insulting a girl - twice, about her hair - and causing a fight between her friends and the girls in our class. By the end, the school was settling down. I became head boy in 1979, after Margaret Thatcher had been elected; I remember being confused about which was the more important.
At A-level, I got As for economics and history, and a B in English. I had a bit of help with my English and got into St John's College, Oxford. After Prelims, I was awarded a scholarship, which gave you the right to wear a long gown and say grace at dinner. I had learnt the Latin grace by heart but I lost it completely after the first line. Whenever I do a live broadcast, I am in terror of that terrible experience, that brain fog.
I got a first in politics, philosophy and economics (PPE). I was pretty happy at Oxford, but only when I found my extracurricular activities: I edited Cherwell and got involved in the SDP, which had just been formed.
After two years working for the Institute for Fiscal Studies in London (John Kay, who ran it, had taught me at Oxford), I won a Harkness Scholarship to do a masters in public administration at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. During my two years there, I learnt a lot - the approach was more inclusive than argumentative, with every contribution, however stupid, being welcomed: "Thank you for sharing that with us."Reuse content