The real me at 18: the personal statements of five public figures

Dec 7, 2012

by Richard DawkinsAlan JohnsonSuzanne MooreCamila Batmanghelidjh and Benjamin Zephaniah

The Sutton Trust says pressure to cram personal statements with achievements favours university applications from private schools. We asked writers to imagine they were 18 again, but to tell nothing but the truth …

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins

I’d like to come to Oxford to read biology, but I really haven’t got a very good reason. I drifted into the biological stream at school, partly through the influence of an inspiring teacher but mostly just following in father’s footsteps. Biology probably is my best subject, but that isn’t saying much. I’m a lousy naturalist, which may disappoint my parents, and I’m not great at laboratory work. But I have started to think about deep questions of existence. Why are we here? How does life come to exist on this planet? Why is it the way it is? I think evolutionary biology is the right area to find answers, and I know Oxford is world class in evolution. If the competition isn’t too severe, perhaps you might take a chance on me? I’d like the opportunity to surprise you.

• Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist and author

Alan Johnson

I know this is a long shot but I think I’d be an asset for your university. I haven’t got any qualifications because I left school at 15, but I’ve read a lot of books including ones that my English teacher told me were “literature”.

My CV says that Tesco sacked me, but the truth is that I walked out in protest at not getting a dinner break. I see that lots of students are walking out of classes and taking over their vice-chancellor’s office. I’d be good at that and, thanks to Tesco I’m well versed in British management techniques.

I recently joined the Post Office as a postman but the early mornings are a pain and students don’t seem to get up quite so early. I’ve been in a couple of bands and would rather stay in music, but we had all our gear nicked. In any case I hear that some students wear loon pants and form rock bands.

I look forward to your reply. Could you confirm that accommodation would be available for my wife and two children?

• Alan Johnson is a British Labour party politician and former home secretary

Suzanne Moore

Suzanne Moore

I should warn you I do not have any A-levels. Influenced by the works of Huxley and Orwell, I decided to make a run for it. The totalitarian nature of my sixth form was so antithetical to my innate creativity that I realised I would be better off on what is colloquially known as “the dole”. This has allowed me to push at the doors of perception in ways that l have found productive. But my mother, being less enlightened, says I have to stop. My time out of formal education has endowed me with cultural capital beyond any that could be gained from strict adherence the A-level regime. Thanks to punk, I have gained a whole range of life skills: avoiding gob, wearing binbags and an ability to discuss William Blake into the small hours.

Apart from my aforementioned hobby of research into psychoactive substances, I am also fond of poetry, especially the works of Patrick Kavanagh, who said: “And I have a feeling. That through a hole in reasons ceiling. We can fly to knowledge. Without ever going to college.” But I trust that you will learn me different.

• Suzanne Moore is a Guardian columnist

Camila Batmanghelidjh

Camila Batmanghelidjh

I’d like to come to your university, but I have the writing age of a seven-year-old. It’s not for lack of trying: I’ve attended more remedial lessons than you’d like to know! I’ve fantasised about murdering the teacher as, through gritted teeth, she tells me it’s a “b” I should write and not a “d”. Believe me, I’m enthusiastic and intellectually curious, but educational psychologists suggest I’d be better off at a cookery school. Personally, I think it’s a bad idea, because I seem to continuously set my own sleeve alight as I turn the cooker knob in the wrong direction. By now you’re probably thinking I’m the last person you should have at your uni. I wish I could say that I’ll jump the hurdles for you and be a potential Olympic champion. The catch is, my butt is too big to haul over the obstacle. But I’d be a credit to your equal opportunities disability quota: I have every disability under the sun!

• Camila Batmanghelidjh is the founder of Kids Company and The Place2Be

Benjamin Zephaniah

Benjamin Zephaniah

I think I would be an asset to your university because not only is my intelligence immeasurable but I have also accumulated many life skills over my many years of existence. Some people go to private schools, some people go to state schools, but I went to an approved school. After being approved and graduating I did an internship with a probation officer. As a hobby I searched for black holes in outer space, and I dabble in a bit of the old pure mathematics. As work experience I have worked as a bouncer in my local garden centre, and a flower arranger on a Colombian ship, but I can’t talk about that because that is ragamuffin business, and it’s all a bit hush hush, you get me. I have been reading at the works of Homer, de Beauvoir, and Spike Milligan, because my goal is to one day be a poet. My greatest asset is my dyslexia. Please pick me.

• Benjamin Zephaniah is a poet

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