Life's golden prizes go to the dullest people

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The Independent Online

Soon it will be arriving, that envelope containing the news that you dread or long for, your exam results. You probably think that the verdict about to be pronounced - on your finals, second year, A-levels - will provide some kind of guide to the rest of your life. You are wrong, as it happens, but this is as good a time as any to look beyond that shag-and-lager holiday you are currently planning, and into the future.

Soon it will be arriving, that envelope containing the news that you dread or long for, your exam results. You probably think that the verdict about to be pronounced - on your finals, second year, A-levels - will provide some kind of guide to the rest of your life. You are wrong, as it happens, but this is as good a time as any to look beyond that shag-and-lager holiday you are currently planning, and into the future.

Your problem is where to turn for advice. The internet is too wild; career specialists too tame. Parents are hopeless on these occasions. With a growing sense of panic, you will look to public life for some kind of hint as to what you should do. Then, in the nick of time, you will realise that it is in professional sport that the truth, the guiding metaphor for life, is to be found.

You may resist this idea. What have these musclebound, overpaid oafs to offer to someone with a normal life, beyond the obvious lessons about success and failure - start young, train hard and get a good agent?

But wait. Look closer. As these titans of contemporary life follow their destiny, running, jumping, kicking and hitting things, they have each realised that it is not enough merely to be good and competitive. To succeed, one must also cultivate an inner nature, which David Coleman habitually describes as being "focused", but which the non-sporting world knows by a simpler term. You must learn to be dull.

As a keynote text in the art of dullness, you could do worse than to find and study an interview conducted in these pages not so long ago. Deborah Ross was meeting Greg "the Teeth" Rusedski. In her attempts to bring enlightenment and wit to her subject, Ross ducked and weaved, sparkled and teased and flirted - all to no avail. Whatever the question, the Teeth replied with the same plonking, goodwilled, dead-eyed, lantern-jawed dreariness.

It might unkindly be said that this was what is known as stupidity or humourlessness, but that is to underestimate the skills of the cultivated bore. Others will point out that Greg crashed out in the first round, too - I suspect that contact with a non-boring person may have weakened his game in some way - but that is to ignore that, once again, the forces of dullness had a triumphant tournament. "Pistol" Pete Sampras appeared in post-match interviews to be rather brighter than most tennis players, but one look in those eyes revealed the quality that puts him up there with Borg, Evert, Navratilova and Ann Jones as unforgettable champions of dullness.

The eyes tell the whole story. The European Cup was a reminder that all the greatest footballers - Zidane, Bergkamp, our own ginger-nut wizard Paul Scholes - share the same look of utter vacancy, with eyes that are small, dark pools of nothingness.

If you are considering politics as a possible career, personal dullness is an essential attribute. It inspires confidence, just as surely as wit or any hint of complexity provokes unease and suspicion. Some of our great leaders were born dull (Blair, Hague, Heath), others have achieved dullness (Callaghan, Thatcher, Smith) but none has had dullness thrust upon them. It is a flower that has been forced into bloom after years of dedicated effort.

The great lost leaders have discovered that to their cost. Remember Healey or Kinnock, think of Kenneth Clarke - at the moment of truth, they simply let themselves down by being interesting, making jokes, by revealing a fatal sense of irony or of the ridiculous.

So it goes with every career, every success story. Branson, Parkinson, Esther Rantzen, Sir Trevor McDonald: wherever one turns, life's golden prizes are being awarded to the heroes of dullness. Remember, as you open that envelope: it could be you.

terblacker@aol.com

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