As a 16-year-old I probably came across as arrogant. I was tall and very athletic, good-looking. But I wasn’t confident. I couldn’t look people in the eye and I was very nervous in social situations. So that probably came across as ‘look at that tall bloke over there, he thinks he’s better than everybody’. I felt very insecure in London, embarrassed about my posh accent. I didn’t know how to dress. I was still wearing the Gap T-shirt I’d got at 14. I went to a single-sex private school, which also made meeting girls difficult. My friends knew lots of girls and I didn’t know any. I hadn’t kissed a girl yet. My friends were telling me lots of stories about kissing girls and la la la. I wish my 16-year-old self had known his friends were all lying to him.
My parents never addressed the issue of me becoming a teenager. They quite liked the fact that I was hanging out with them on a Friday night in my old Gap T-shirt. As a dad myself I’d be quite mindful that your kids need to be with their friends, to start to move into adulthood. I think I’ll try to help them do that. My mum never said, look, here’s your pocket money, go to Camden Market, buy some decent goddamn clothes. My dad never taught me how to shave. He just said, “Oh yeah, you need to start shaving now”, and wandered off. And I was like, I’m fucking terrified, what do you do?! I was embarrassed, I had these hairs coming out of my chin and I didn’t know what to do about them. They probably thought I was on it, but I wasn’t on it, I was dying.
I look at the street signs, the hedgerows, the birds, the trees, the wildflowers, and I know I could never move away.
I was very competitive when I was 16. I wanted to get into a top university, I wanted to be good at rowing and rugby. So I was working hard. Looking back, that’s what I’m most grateful about. I went to Oxford right? I can tell you this, the people at Oxford were no cleverer than anyone else I ever met. But they were people who made the decision at 14 years old to work really hard. Oxford was like anywhere else, a bunch of muppets who wanted to do well and made a lot of mistakes. But we all had been weird teenagers who made a decision at 14 to work for two years and see what happened. And I’m glad I did that, because it opened up a world of opportunities for me. I absolutely loved university. After hating being 16, I bloody loved being 17 and 18. I grew into myself. I felt I’d made it.
I’m quite a conservative person. I did try to be rebellious when I was a teenager. I remember a friend offered to sell me weed and I said, hey, cool, of course. So I bought some weed from him and literally, the moment I was round the corner I started panicking that a SWAT team was going to swoop down on me. I immediately threw it in a dumpster. That was the fucking scariest 30 seconds of my life.
If I could speak to that teenager now I’d say, you have so much more time than you think. At 16 I thought time was running out. I thought life was over by the time you got to 23, that’s when you were washed up. So I only had five years to really live. And here I was, on a Friday night in one of those years, just sitting at home with my mum and dad. I thought everyone was better at socialising than me, was much cooler than me, more successful than me. I was in a dark place. I thought I was a complete loser. What I know now is that those are just practice years, real life begins much later. I had much more fun and adventure and more experiences in my twenties and thirties.