'I enjoyed school, but I underachieved'

If your child's results aren't quite up to scratch, they're in good company, says Grace McCann

Dismal or disappointing results do not a loser make. The following well-known people messed up in the sixth form but came good in their chosen careers. If you are worried that your child has spent too much time on the sports field or in the high street, read these stories and take heart.

George Alagiah, newsreader

Keen to study at Durham University, he missed the results he needed first time around but retook his exams and eventually got in. "My O-levels were fine - I got nine or 10 - but at A-levels I came a cropper. I passed, but not with the right grades for Durham," he told The Independent. Alagiah thinks he was too heavily involved with activities such as editing the school magazine. "The headmaster gave me the keys to the sixth-form block for extra study at weekends."

Estelle Morris, Arts Minister

The former Education Secretary completely failed her A-levels. "I was content at school and enjoyed it but I think I underachieved," she said. "I am sure I didn't work hard enough and that has driven me ever since." Morris had passed seven O-levels. She became a teacher, and then an MP in 1992.

Anne Widdecombe, MP

There was early upset for the formidable Tory when she failed to get into St Anne's College, Oxford, but she achieved good enough A-levels for a place at Birmingham to read Latin and ancient history. "My political ambitions hardened and I thought Oxford would be a good place to engage in politics," she told The Independent. I sat the entrance exam for Lady Margaret Hall in Latin; I had almost finished a degree in the subject." At Oxford she plunged into student politics but let her studies slip. "My third in PPE [politics, philosophy and economics] was my greatest triumph, as I did no work as far as the exams were concerned."

Richard Hill, rugby player - England and Saracens

"I failed my A-levels and decided to retake them," Hill said in a newspaper interview. He decided to give his rugby a bit of a break that year. "But after Christmas, I got a call asking me to go to a final England Colts [junior England squad] trial. Can't turn that down, I thought. So I was dragged back into it, but it was always what I wanted." However, Hill still managed to graduate from Brunel University.

Jimi Mistry, actor

Acting occurred to Mistry only after he messed up in the sixth form. He told journalists: "I never wanted to be an actor until I was 18. I failed my A-levels miserably, and my father said, 'You have got to have a direction'. He drew up a list of good and bad points of what I had to offer, and one of them was being able to entertain. So I went to drama school."

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