A few weeks after Breaking Bad had come to its dramatic finale, I found myself standing in front of an audience of journalists at a swanky London hotel. Bryan Cranston – Walter White himself – was staring at me intensely.
It was the press conference for Godzilla, and after weeks of trying, I’d managed to get myself into the room with one shameless intention – to get the director, Gareth Edwards, to deviate from the $160m movie he was there to promote and talk, instead, about Arrivals – a short film he’d made half a lifetime earlier whilst still a student of Farnham Film School, now part of the University for the Creative Arts (UCA). It was a fairly brazen PR attempt from an inexperienced press officer, but amazingly it kind of worked.
I went home that evening, heart still pounding, feeling a level of job satisfaction I don’t think I’d ever really felt before. It hadn’t just been a good day at the office. It had been – dare I say – rather exciting.
My first contact with UCA had happened five years earlier, when, having just lost a dull builders’ merchant job to the recession, I picked-up the phone to the university’s Clearing hotline and asked about their journalism courses.
I’d never been particularly academic at school. A read through my old reports has a distinct running theme of under-achievement and disappointed teachers. It’s not that I couldn’t do the work, it’s just that school happened to coincide with my ‘bone-idle little sod’ period.
But a few years in the outside world had instilled in me something bordering on a solid work-ethic – and made me realise the exciting jobs go to the people that chase them.
Whilst my A-level grades by themselves were insufficient to get me on to the course, my age, then 25, and my ‘life experience’ – which included keeping a blog when I travelled – were enough to get me through to a phone interview with the course leader.
I can’t remember now exactly what was said, but I must have done enough to convince him of my merits because within a month, I’d moved to the Surrey town of Farnham and enrolled myself into the university.
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Of course, there were a million and one things I was worried about. After collecting a monthly salary for so long, would I cope on student finance? Could I really survive living with a bunch of students? What if, after racking up thousands of pounds of debt, I failed to find a decent job?
I needn’t have worried. I loved it – even the hours of essay-writing. And after three years – in which time I stayed at a Bedouin camp in Jordan, interviewed The Gadget Show presenters onstage at the NEC, and reported from the front-line of the 2010 student riots – I graduated with First-Class Honours.
Within months of graduating, I’d landed a commission with The Guardian, taken part in the UN’s Internet Governance Forum in Azerbaijan (where I got to meet ‘the father of the Internet’, Vint Cerf) and picked up a few days a week at UCA, where I’m now employed full-time, promoting the School of Film, Media and Communication Design.
But why am I telling you this?
It’s because taking a few minutes to call a university on Clearing day was the smartest thing I’ve ever done. I’ll never get rich doing what I do now, but it sure as hell beats flogging wood and gravel.