This post is inspired by Victoria Beckham’s letter ‘Dear Victoria: Mrs Beckham Pens A Letter To Her 18-Year-Old Self’ which appeared in Vogue in January 2017
It is July 2007.
The mystery surrounding Madeleine McCann has only just begun, the UK is about to have its wettest summer on record – leaving you bored in house during the six-week holiday – and in a few short weeks you will be turning 11. The summer of your 11th birthday will be tinged with fears and anxiety. You are starting secondary school in the September and the thought of somewhere new, with new people and a new structure is terrifying to you. You are scared of losing your way around the ‘big school’, of not making any new friends, of being bullied. But as you stand outside your house on a warm, sunny morning with an oversized blazer and brand new backpack filled with a new pencil case, notepad and water bottle, the terror in your stomach will turn to nervous excitement. Your mom will take photos of you in your new uniform, the tie measured out exactly to the school’s 12 stripe requirement, and you will pull a cheesy grin as the camera clicks. It’s an awful photo. The sort of awful that makes everyone laugh and cringe simultaneously as it’s pulled out of the album.
Your first few years at Coppice Performing Arts School will be miraculously uninteresting. You are shy at this age, a bit uncomfortable in your skin, you like to blend into the crowd. You have a nice group of friends and you are doing well in your subjects so you can’t complain. I remember how annoyed you felt that you weren’t in the top set for French, when you were in top set for every other subject, but it shouldn’t get to you: you will never be good at French. You will take a course in beginners Italian at University and realise that languages, in general, aren’t really your talent. Your harsh self-criticism will be something that you will struggle with all through school and into adult life. I really wish you would worry less. Please, just worry less.
Your time at school makes you love drama, well, it is a Performing Arts School after all. It is something you will love all your life and you can’t yet imagine that you will live so close to the West End and, one day, do a work placement with the National Theatre. In Year 7 you join drama club and those two hours, for the next three years, are the best part of your week. The freedom your teachers gave you to make performances and tell stories is brilliant, even if I do look back at some of them and cringe. Your understanding that stories must have substantial plot and depth will come with age.
But as you got older you did stop going to drama club: it became ‘embarrassing’. Speaking from experience, from me to you, stop caring what people think. When you stop caring what people think your life gets a lot easier and a lot happier, trust me. Anyway, GCSE drama three times a week will make up for it and introduced you to the infinite power of musicals, in the form of Willy Russel’s Blood Brothers. But please don’t throw away your drama notebook at the end of Year 11, because you won’t remember a workshop you had with one of the Blood Brothers cast members as well as you would like.
It is actually by the pure chance of circumstance that you will take Drama and Theatre Studies as one of your A Levels. A clash in the timetable forcing you to pick a new option. At this point you are planning to study sciences at University, or maybe Geography. But please do pick Drama instead of Sociology when Mrs Lane gives you the options: you will have the best time during those two years. Nearly all of your friends are in the same class with you. You will go and see shows in London, take a trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon and do a workshop with the Royal Shakespeare Company. You will learn that theatre isn’t just acting but so much more and your head will spin with it all. You will even receive the school’s ‘Christopher Lewis Award for Achievement in Drama’ at the end of Year 13.
So please do start Googling what are the best Universities for Theatre/Drama and English. Please do sit with your mom at the dining room table and meticulously go through the list of the top 20 in the country, circling ones that do those subjects together as Joint Honours. Please do book all of your open days. Please attend the one for Brunel University London, even if mom does think its somewhere too far away for a home-bird like you to want to go and you’re just going for a day trip. Also, please do buy that battered copy of Robert Tressell’s The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists off the book fair at the Brunel open day. It will give you and dad so much socialism to discuss and it is just a bloody good book.
As terrified as you feel about leaving Primary School right now you can’t yet imagine how scared you will be to move to University. With your fully packed car and 130 mile journey ahead of you, your life as you know it feels like its ending.
Which it is.
But that’s not a bad thing.
Your move to Brunel will be the biggest thing you have ever done. It’s a new place with all new people and, to be honest, you have no choice but to get on with it. Nevertheless, it will take a few months to adjust fully to London and adult life. The buses and tubes don’t take cash, a fact you learn much to your awkward dismay: you had never even heard of an Oyster Card. The tube map is a rainbow-spaghetti of pure confusion. You have to ring your mom the first three times you use the Halls washing machine, just to check you are doing it right. You will think you are a Five-Star Chef because you can make pasta and curry out of a jar.
Besides learning how to clean your showerhead and cook for yourself, you will learn so much at Brunel. You will learn so much that you cannot possible keep it all in your brain so please try and write better notes or, for that matter, actually take some notes in certain lectures. You will read books and see shows of all different shapes and sizes, genres and plots. You will learn that you can’t stand Virginia Woolf but love Postcolonialism. The National Theatre and Southbank will become your favourite places in London and you will see more shows at the NT than you can count. Your heart and brain will swell in the knowledge that there are people just as interested in gender theory as you and genuinely want to discuss it (at length!). But don’t feel cocky when there are books on the reading list that you have already read, nobody likes a smartarse and nor do they care if you read 1984 when you were 14 or The Catcher in the Rye when you were 17.
Your 11 year old self can’t even believe that you will run a Debate Society, write for a University newspaper, volunteer at the Barbican Centre and Literary Festivals, work at your beloved National Theatre and, best of all, Graduate with First Class Honours. You won’t believe all the things you will see and all the wonderful places you will go, even if it is me telling you. For example, just last week I went to London Pride for the second time and it is, undeniably, my favourite day of the year in London.
On friendship and love: its quality not quantity. You will find a few good friends at Brunel and keep them close, they are good people who help make you a good person. Do reply to Heather’s Tinder message, even if she didn’t reply to yours for two weeks. It will lead to good things, I promise.
So, just as you are fearfully awaiting the start of Secondary School, as I write this I am awaiting my Graduation. Well, your Graduation really. With a delightful mix of nervous excitement because as you know better than anyone else that I am very clumsy, so the chance I will trip over when I am collecting my certificate is quite high!
All the best,
A little bit older and maybe a little wiser,