Stars in their own eyes

Jilly Cooper, author:

I always wanted to be a journalist. I used to see these male journalists crowding around famous people at airports, chasing people and going off to war. They always wore macs and black hats and I wanted to be one of them. My great, great, great grandfather had founded a newspaper, The Leeds Mercury, so it was in my blood.

When I left school I went to work for the local paper. I didn't go to university because I didn't think I was bright enough, but the truth is I didn't try very hard. Once on the local paper I dreamed of working on Fleet Street where the average wage was #163;22 a week in 1956.

I tried to get a job there but no one wanted me so I went into public relations, which was awful.

I started writing short stories when I was 28 and then I met Godfrey Smith, the editor of The Sunday Times colour supplement at a party. I talked to him about the difficulty of being a wife and working mother, bringing up the children and then making love all night. He said: "It's very funny. Write it."

So I did.

After he read it, Harry Evans [then editor of The Sunday Times] asked me to write a column which I did for more than 13 years. I have now written 37 books and all I would say to today's young people is "Follow your heart."

Sir Ranulph Fiennes, explorer:

When I was eight I wanted to be a commanding officer in the Royal Scots Greys Cavalry Regiment, which is now known as the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. Commanding officer was my father's title when he was killed towards the end of the Second World War. I got as far as being a captain - two ranks lower than commanding officer - but my lack of A-levels frustrated further progress in the right direction so I left the army in 1971. I needed to make money and the only thing the army had taught me which had any career application in civilian life was to lead a group of soldiers and train them in mountaineering and other activities. This would have meant being an adventure training instructor and I wasn't very keen on that, so my other option was to lead expeditions on a financially sound basis.

I had taken my first expedition when I was 18, crossing the Alps from the French side to the Spanish by mule, leading three people. I had enjoyed that trip, so I decided to start very unambitiously and work upwards. My trips just progressed from there.

Chris Tarrant, Capital Radio breakfast show presenter:

My only real dream as a boy was to be captain of the England football team but I more or less abandoned that particular dream when I changed schools at the age of 13 to discover that we only played rugby.

I never really had any career plan - I really have just drifted from one job to another. I did get a university degree in English, but I've driven lorries, worked as a security guard and I was a teacher in a particularly rough all-boys school in the East End of London. It was while I was there that I got matey with the husband of one of the teachers, who invited me to join him as a researcher at a small TV company. I then sent a letter to every single, small, local TV station in the UK pestering them for a job. It was an outrageous, brash letter which certainly couldn't be ignored. I told them I wanted to be the face in front of the camera.

ATV and Yorkshire TV both invited me up for an interview. In a moment of madness, ATV offered me a week's work on their nightly news programme. That was in 1972 and I've never been out of work since then, but I still don't have a career plan.

Pru Leith, cook:

I wanted to teach horse-riding when I was eight because I wanted a pony. But once I was 12, I wanted to be an actress because that's what my mother was.

It was only when I turned 20 that I realised I wanted to become a cook. I had had a crack at drama school, art school, a French degree and flunked out of a course in stage design. Then I went to study at the Sorbonne and discovered the magic of French cooking. Back in London I bluffed my way into the three-mont h advanced cookery course at the Cordon Bleu School.

I told them I had worked in a restaurant. The truth was I had worked as a waitress. Once on the course I started freelancing as a chef at catering events such as

dinner parties, and that was it.

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