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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 August 2005, 21:10 GMT 22:10 UK
Famous A-level flunkers
Flunking your A-levels is devastating at the time but need not condemn you to a life of failure.

These famous figures are living proof that success is not all about getting the right letters in your results envelope:


Ben Fogle shot to fame on the BBC's pioneering reality TV show Castaway in 2000 and has since forged a career as a presenter and travel writer.

Ben Fogle
Fogle's job takes him around the world
He says he never expected brilliant A-level results but was still shocked to fail one of them completely.

"I never expected that I'd do particularly well, just because academically I've never been particularly strong," he says.

"I kind of feared for the worst and I suppose it sort of happened. I sort of got the worst. The first one I opened was my AS, which was in art and I got an A and I was just over the moon, I was so thrilled.

"And then came, of course, the big meaty subjects. In no particular order, I got a C in politics, I got a D in economics, and then in geography, which is basically my subject, because I travel around the world, I got a big fat N, which to this day I don't even know what it means.

"Apparently it means 'nearly' or that's what my friends kind of said as they patted me on the back down in the pub."

Fogle took a year out, which he spent working in an orphanage in Ecuador before going to the University of Portsmouth to study Latin American Studies.


Now known as one of the UK's leading journalists, the young Jon Snow's A-level results did little to hint at the successes to follow.

Jon Snow
Jon Snow advises students to "toil in hope"

"I sat two first time round and failed one and got a C in English. I think it was geography I failed," he says. "Then I went to a tech and sat economics and law and got a D and an E."

While his combined results would still be unlikely to impress those modern-day critics who seem to believe a string of top grades are all but handed out, Snow was undeterred.

"I was really chuffed I got any A-levels at all, I was a complete dunderhead."

After physically visiting the university admissions service - of which Ucas is the modern equivalent - to find out which universities he could go to, Snow obtained a place studying law and has rarely looked back.

The message, he says, is that you can do it if you want to badly enough.

"Toil in hope and you will get there."


Now a Conservative Party heavyweight, David Davis' career nearly floundered when he failed his zoology A-level in 1967 due to the distraction of a part-time job and also having done "not enough work".
David Davis
David Davis is Tory leadership favourite

He says he cannot recall the grades he got in his other exams - physics and chemistry - but says: "They weren't great but just about good enough to get me into Warwick."

After university, he went on to have successful careers in both business and politics.

His advice for young people in a similar situation is simple: "Don't give up."

He adds: "Its only a setback. Life's about getting over setbacks, not giving in to them.

"There's always another chance somewhere. Look for another college, look for re-sits."


Declan Curry explains how many noughts
'Tears and tantrums' followed Declan Curry's exam failures
Declan Curry is one of Britain's best-known business journalists, appearing daily as a presenter on BBC Breakfast as well as on the US channel ABC.

But 15 years ago, his world was shattered when he opened his results envelope to find he had failed all three of his A-level exams.

"Fifteen years on and it is still somewhat embarrassing," he says.

"I was doing chemistry, biology, mathematics - failed them all. Absolutely utterly failed them - ungraded - it was that bad.

"After a day of tears and tantrums you do the only thing you can do, which is pick up and put yourself straight back into it."

He re-took the exams and managed to pass all three with two Bs and one C the following year.

Did you flunk your exams? Tell us about your experiences using the form below.

Your comments

I got an E, U and N in 1990 - what am I doing now? Running my own real estate investment company in the US employing 8 people - my head teacher told me that I would be lucky to stack shelves at Sainsbury's!!
Nick, Seattle, USA

You losers should not condone failure. I got three A's and a B at A-level, and was gutted that it was not four straight A's. Then I got a first from Manchester. Now I am already on the way to a board level post in a multinational. I work in Florida with my family joining me as often as they can from Thatcham. All this from a council house in Reading. Good A-levels are vital. If I can do it, so should you.
James Worthington, Thatcham, Berks

I was booted out of school at 16 with four O-levels and have run a successful business for the past 20 years. Qualifications are nice but they are no guarantee of success. Attitude is everything.
Ken, Essex

In 1983, I sat 4 A-levels but only passed one - General Studies. Whilst feeling like a huge failure at the time as most of my peers went to university, at the age of 18 I went into insurance and then switched to IT. Whilst money isn't everything I am often surprised that now, 20 years on I am in a great job in the City earning a good salary which is better than many of my peers from school who had better A-level passes.
Ceri, Herts UK

I dropped out of high school early but then went on to higher academic studies in my thirties and finally completed a Doc. of Metaphysics. I can honestly say that the best thing I ever did in life was drop out of school.
Dr Craig Melville, Hull, East Yorkshire

I managed 4 GCSE's and no A-levels then realised I wasn't set out for the academic schooling system that we have. I assisted a photographer for 3 years and now am a successful photographer in my own right. Just because you can't get in to university doesn't mean that you can't be successful in other less academic fields.
Matthew Stuart, London

I scraped two 'O' levels in English Language ('O' level B and CSE 1 as they double entered me) but failed the rest and dropped out of the sixth form after 1 year. I went on to a very successful career in television production where I earned very well until I gave it all up to look after our three children. I'm now a governor at our children's school and run my own online business from home. Not too shabby I think...! Qualifications get you in the door but don't qualify you to do the job well.
Lynne, London

I got one GCSE at grade C, never did A-levels. I now make approx 100,000 a year in the real estate industry in the US. Not bad for a flunker, eh?
Sue, Huntington Beach, California

I was expelled from school at 15... best thing that ever happened to me. Spent the next six years travelling and climbing, before coming home to an access course and University. Eventually got a scholarship to do an MA in Ecomomics and now run a management business. There's a hell of a lot more to do in your late teens than go to University - that can wait. Results mean nothing. Enjoy yourselves.
Steve , Liverpool

I dropped out of my A-level English, History and Politics course after one year. I also failed my maths GCSE twice! I am now a nurse and I love my job. Ok, I could have earnt more money if I'd got a degree etc but I don't think I'd feel this fulfilled. For me success is more than cash or qualifications, it's about coming home at the end of the day and still having a smile on your face!
Nikki, Swindon, UK

I am still under the cloud left from failing my A-Levels nearly four years ago. While I have a job, it is far from inspiring and all my employer ever tells me is how stupid I was in not attending university. What I don't tell him is that most of my friends (now at university) are always calling me and asking questions regarding their subjects, which I duly answer. My happy ending is sadly missing, I hope it comes along soon as I have lost all sense of self-worth.
Chris, Tunbridge Wells

Two Ds and a C is all I got in my A-levels at school. What do I occupy my time doing now? A PhD in mechanical engineering. Personally I think that this is proof, if proof were needed of falling education standards but what do I know, I can't claim to be qualified to comment. That said, A-levels are very specific exams, where as engineering, law, medicine and many other disciplines require a combination of skills that cannot be evaluated at the age of 18. That is the contradiction of specialised exams as an indicator of suitability for a vocational career.
James, Vancouver, Canada

After messing about at school I managed to get C, D,E, in my A-levels in geography, physics and mathematics back in 1999. I had barely managed to get into university. In 2003 I graduated with a first class honours degree in computer science, I am now just finishing a masters degree, and next year I am planning to do a PhD. Bad A-level grades are only a temporary set back, providing you have the determination to succeed. They will not determine how well you will do at university.
Richard, Lancaster, Lancashire

I got the A levels I needed to get into university, but then did next to no work whatsoever, and was lucky to scrape through with a third class degree. And still somehow ended up in a job where quite a bit of it was relevant!
Simon, Manchester

I left school with three O-levels, having re-sat them all. I went to work and studied in my spare time. I am now a chartered accountant, have an OND in business studies and a master's degree from London School of Economics. I am a visiting fellow at an English university business School and my second textbook will be published soon. My advice for kids who have failed? Don't let it get you down. Relax, study and enjoy it.
Colin, London

I sat three A-levels in 1997 and passed only one of them, due to the fact I had no direction with what I wanted to do after school, and had little confidence in my ability to progress further. I'm studying animation these days, and aim high, but back then I felt lost, and the exams took a back seat after I reacted to the constant pressure, and impression they would set my destiny in stone.
Chris Johnson, Cleadon Village

Started my career as a deckchair attendant on Worthing beach after failing all my exams. After some years I moved to America, settled in California and co-founded a successful travel company, which, 29 years later, is still going strong with over 250 staff around the USA.
Michael Fitzpatrick, Pacific Palisades, California

I failed all my A-levels because I did not fit into the category of people that our ridiculous education system caters for. I also never went to university. However I now sell oil tankers for a living. A-levels are just a distant memory to joke about.
Hugo, London

Have to agree on this point. I got two Ds and an E for the three sciences at A-level, as I had more important things to do with my life at 17! Still, I did a BSc (Hons) at Nottingham Trent University and then an MSc (with distinction) before moving to one of Germany's top medical schools to do a PhD in cancer immunology. I am now working for the University Zurich and a tad chuffed... and I was called a no-hoper. Some people just bloom at different times, stick with it and don't let them tell you otherwise!
Ashley, now, Zurich; then, Plymouth

I failed my A-levels not once but twice. I did two sets both giving me the same grades, C, E and N. However with this I still managed to get into university in which I passed my degree with upper second class honours, and currently I am working on a PhD in structural Biology. Failure in A-levels doesn't mean failure altogether.
Nathan, Nottingham

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See BBC TV personalities recall their A-level results day

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