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Wednesday, 9 August, 2000, 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK
Top 10 things to admit from your youth

Hague told GQ he used to drink 14 pints a day
By claiming he was a hard-drinking youth, William Hague is trying to change the image of him as a nerdy 16-year-old who addressed the Tory conference.

Tony Blair once said he had tried to stow away on a plane to the Bahamas when young, a claim which, like Mr Hague's, was greeted with scepticism.

But highlighting things you did or didn't do in your youth is a game everyone plays, usually to improve your image as an adult. So what sort of things do we admit to? And what would we like them to say about us?

"Fourteen pints! Is that all?" chorus Fleet Street's columnists. When Euan Blair was found drunk and incapable after a night on the tiles, comment writers pounced on the story as an excuse for unleashing their own tales of teenage excess.

Whatever your politics, getting blotto as a youngster is par for the course. Witness the comments of former Times editor and leading establishment figure William Rees-Mogg: "If a gentleman wishes to take an alfresco nap after dinner in Leicester Square, why should he not do so?"

The spin: Hard drinker = I'm a man of the people

Confessions about drugs by the current establishment centre around the "did you inhale?" subject. Mo Mowlam recently admitted she had smoked marijuana at university. She did inhale, and she is responsible for enforcing the government's drugs policy.

For an establishment that was young in the 60s and early 70s, this is perhaps not surprising. So what of future confessions? In 2025, will the leader of the opposition say: "I used to drop 14 Es a week"?

The spin: Dabbled with drugs = I'm a risk taker

There are few things teenagers are more reluctant to admit than total sexual inexperience. As adults, though, it is more usual to make frank admissions about years of adolescent inadequacy.

For politicians, sexual revelations are usually the biggest dread. Last year Michael Portillo broke the mould when he admitted he had homosexual experiences at university. He was duly elected an MP and then appointed shadow chancellor. In just one move he had branded himself as being honest and open.

The spin: Sexual frankness = I wouldn't lie to try to impress you

Like eyes being windows to the soul, the records you amassed as a teenager betray exactly how streetwise you once were. Mr Hague's admission to owning a couple of Genesis albums is not as bad as it sounds. In the early 70s, "prog rock" was the last word in art-school cool.

Today's thirtysomethings were devotees of The Smiths and Half Man, Half Biscuit in the 1980s. So who bought all those Simple Minds records?

The spin: Musical youth = I'm the sensitive, creative type

The idealism of youth is something many people have to come to terms with, although as well paid, company car-driving middle managers, they may choose to gloss over their once-avowedly Marxist positions.

It's especially true for politicians, who may find their youthful exuberance is inconvenient in later life, whether it be membership of CND, the Young Communists, or right-wing Tory student groups.

Mr Hague's also revealed to GQ: "I only once gave a speech [at the Oxford Union] while drunk. I think it was on 'Radicalism has no place in the Tory Party'." He can be sure someone in the government has made a note of that line to use against him in the future.

The spin: High ideals = at least I cared once

When family members bring out decades-old photographs of you, showing horrible flares and very bad hair, it's crunch time for coming to terms with your past. But by enthusiastically embracing your youthful excesses, you can give the impression you at least were in the game; you played your part.

The spin: Bad hair = adolescence and me, in perfect harmony

At the height of the Blur-Oasis rivalry, the bad-boy Gallagher brothers hardly missed an opportunity to assert their roguish image by recalling how they used to pinch car radios.

The bad-habit never left Noel, who maintained his magpie tendencies as a songwriter - he admitted pinching the riff to David Bowie's "All the Young Dudes" for two of his songs.

The spin: Light fingered = I'm a bit woooah.

Not that Blur were all upright mummies' boys. Alex James, the band's bassist and a confessed loafer, proudly remembers "bunking off" school as a child.

But this is not always as nihilistic as it seems. After all, to the creative young artist, school is a straitjacket of petty rules and indoctrination. Paul McCartney used to skive off to write songs with John Lennon.

The spin: Bunker off = I'm not afraid to rebel

In the received wisdom of all things cool, maths is a loser's subject. Education Secretary David Blunkett said: "too many people in Britain say with almost a badge of pride they never did understand maths properly."

Confessed maths failures include Rolf Harris, DJ Annie Nightingale, PR guru Lynne Franks, BBC presenter Kirsty Wark, writer Bel Mooney, cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, and one-time treasury chief secretary, now health secretary, Alan Milburn.

The spin: Bad mathematician = I'm just like you

If all else fails, there's the old Huey Lewis "Hip to be Square" justification. While others may fall back on the wild trappings of rebellion, those who feel they missed out can claim (probably with some truth) that as youths they were too boring for words.

The reason is to create the impression that it's all in the past. NOW, they want you to believe, they are fascinating, outgoing adults. This may in fact be less true.

The spin: Square bear = I didn't misbehave, but I'm a bit of a rebel now

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See also:

08 Aug 00 | UK Politics
Hague: I drank 14 pints a day
09 Aug 00 | UK Politics
Hague challenged to drink 14 pints
16 Jan 00 | UK Politics
Mowlam: I smoked cannabis
09 Sep 99 | UK Politics
Portillo begins comeback
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