The Real World: Alain de Botton, philosopher, writer and TV presenter

'The PhD was the perfect cover - I never had to admit i was trying to be a writer'

Alain de Botton studied history at Cambridge University. He graduated in 1992 with a double-starred first

Did you have a part-time job at university?

I worked a few days a week at the university paper, Varsity, but the pay was minimal. It was done far more out of a motivation to have something impressive to put on a CV.

Did you do any work experience while at university?

One summer I worked at Time Out, helping to put together a guide on interior decoration. It was mind-numbing work but the people were great fun.

Another summer, I got a job at Grove/Atlantic, a US publishing house in New York. This was much more glamorous, giving me the chance of spending a few months in NY. Not least, it helped to dispel romantic myths about publishing. I saw it to be a business like any other and when, a few years later, I was submitting my own manuscript for publication, those few months at Grove/Atlantic held me in good stead. It's worth adding that I was a completely useless worker and was particularly bad at accurately taking down a phone message.

Did you pick your degree with a specific career in mind?

I wanted to do something that would be broadly creative and I picked history. At various points in my degree, I wanted to change to politics, history of art, architecture and English. But I always stuck with history, not least because I found it very easy to do, and thus it enabled me to pursue my other intellectual interests alongside the official degree course.

Why did you pick Cambridge?

I was attracted to the prestige of either Oxford or Cambridge and picked Cambridge because I liked the flat, rather Dutch quality of the surrounding countryside. I also hoped that I would meet beautiful and intelligent girls with whom to have long conversations about love and truth. It didn't quite turn out that way, in fact rarely have I felt more starved of female company than at Cambridge.

How soon after leaving university did you get a job?

I earned my first money about 12 months after leaving university. This wasn't in a regular job however. That was the royalty cheque for my first book, Essays in Love, which I'd been writing since graduating, while pretending to be doing a PhD at London University. The PhD provided the perfect cover for my ambitions, as it meant I never had to tell anyone that I had hatched the crazed scheme of trying to become a writer.

Do you still use skills that you picked up at university?

Doing university essays taught me the valuable skill of condensing a huge amount of material in a minimal amount of time.

Has your career progressed as you imagined it would?

I never imagined having the financial success I have had.

Are you still in touch with university friends?

I've a group of some 12 people that I still see on a fairly regular basis.

Looking back, are you glad that you went to university?

Very much so. Going to Cambridge spared me any feelings that the place was somehow glamorous or special. If I hadn't gone there, I might have had romantic fantasies about it. Now I wish I'd gone somewhere else.

Alain de Botton's latest book, 'The Architecture of Happiness' (Hamish Hamilton Limited) is out now, priced £17.99

Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

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

Guru Careers: Marketing Compliance Assistant

£18k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Compliance Assistant to join a ...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are a recent psychology graduate ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior / Graduate Graphic Designer

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Largest Independent Motor D...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders