Education & Family

Joanna Lumley's career lessons for life

Joanna Lumley
Image caption Joanna Lumley impressed pupils with her advice: "Buy an atlas and keep it by the bed."

Joanna Lumley gave a masterclass in lessons for life - when she visited what must be the country's most ambitious careers fair.

"Say 'yes', be on time, look gorgeous, show willing, be savagely polite," she told pupils at an east London school, as her instant guide to career success.

She later said she had grown up being told it was better to "burn the furniture" than "draw the dole".

The careers fair was the launch event for the Inspiring the Future scheme.

Run by the organisation that produced Bill Gates as a mystery speaker in a Deptford comprehensive, this project aims to bring 100,000 speakers into state schools to talk about careers.

It wants to give state schools the kind of networks of first-hand careers advice that are taken for granted by independent schools.

'Dare everything'

Ms Lumley headed the list of visitors to Bishop Challoner school in east London, alongside luminaries such as Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and CBI president Sir Roger Carr.

Image caption The scheme wants to improve the careers advice available in state schools

Drawing the most enthusiastic response from the pupils, Ms Lumley delivered a volley of individual advice.

"Buy an atlas and keep it by the bed - remember you can go anywhere," she told pupils.

She said that she wanted pupils to leave school "on fire" with a willingness to be adventurous and ambitious.

"Dare everything, try everything, stick at stuff," was another plea - which the pupils lapped up - as the actress effortlessly upstaged the other career representatives.

She gave girls at the school a quickfire lesson in how to be interviewed for television - alongside the message that they shouldn't be deterred by anyone putting them down.

Introducing herself as a "pensioner and an actress", she also put the ageing process in perspective, explaining that the inner 16-year-old was still alive inside her - "exactly the same sense of ambition, still bored stiff by the same things".

No featherbeds

There was tough love too - warning that youngsters needed to be given more than just supportive advice: "Work bloody hard, we can't just featherbed you."

There were also challenges ahead for her - saying that her next project was finding Noah's Ark and examining the ancient stories of the flood, ticking off a list of countries she would have to visit in the process.

Asked about the challenges facing youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds, she gave a no-nonsense reply.

"It doesn't matter. You've got books, manners and punctuality."

And she said that her own parents had instilled in her a strong sense of self-reliance and told her to "eat grass, but don't draw the dole".

She said that she had grown up thinking it was better to sell her shoes and burn the furniture to keep warm rather than sign on.

The event at Bishop Challoner, set up by Nick Chambers of the Education and Employers Taskforce, represents the starting point for a national project - bringing speakers from a range of professions into schools.

The school's sports hall was packed with stalls - with firms from banking, law, construction, transport, the armed services, government departments, accountancy, restaurants and the media.

There were 100 employers providing advice for 1,000 pupils.

Pupils were able to get information from people working in these sectors - trying to provide the hidden hand of good advice that can be missing for many youngsters.

"We desperately need to tackle the corrosive effects of high youth unemployment in the UK, so I would urge employers to sign up to this initiative," said Sir Roger Carr.

Brian Lightman, leader of the ASCL head teachers' union, said decisions about careers could be "bewildering" for pupils.

"It is immensely important that they have the chance to gain insights early on about different jobs and careers, especially when they cover areas outside their immediate experience," said Mr Lightman.

The pupils were able to ask Nick Clegg about his career path. Had he always wanted to get into politics?

"I was very unattracted to student politics," he told pupils.

"I'd meet these people involved in student politics who were absolutely full of raging certainties. They'd get all red-faced and pumped up, shouting at each other in student debates."

If that rather sounds like the House of Commons - maybe the new careers adviser, Ms Lumley, could have a word.

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