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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

£20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Data Analyst - Essex - £25,000

£23500 - £25000 per annum + Training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Data analyst/Sys...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Account Manager

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Account Manager is r...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Manager / Sales Executive

£18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Account Man...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness