I wrote this in 2010. I wouldn’t change a word of it now…

Dear Iain,

This could turn into a 100 page epistle, if I am not careful. As you know, you have had a perfect childhood - brought up by two loving parents in a wonderful rural environment. I know you know how lucky you have been. Life isn’t always this perfect, as you are about to find out, as you enter adulthood.

My first bit of advice will not come as a surprise. You need to develop a harder edge. You can’t be liked by everyone, no matter how hard you try. There are people out there who will want to do you down and slag you off. You cannot win everyone over and there’s no point in trying. You know that throughout your school days you have been bullied by various people and yet you’ve never stood up to them. Now’s the time to start. Do it once and it becomes very easy the next time. You know you give the impression of being an extrovert, the life and soul of the party and willing to speak up in a meeting. Yet you and I both know that you have an inate shyness which you constantly seek to repress. Few people know the real you. Keep it that way. Those who want to dig beneath the surface will do so. Those who are only interested in you for what they can get out of you won’t bother. There will come a time when everyone seems to want to know you. To want a bit of you. Beware of those people. They’re easy to spot. They’re the ones who look over your shoulder at a party to see if there’s anyone more important there. What I am saying is that you should be very careful of loving the spotlight a little too much. Fight your natural disposition for your head to get that little bit too big. It’s a fight you will probably never win, though!

My second piece of advice is about your future career. You and I both know that you knew you didn’t want to be a farmer from about the age of eight, even though everyone in your wider family expects you to take over the farm. We also know how difficult has been to carry on the pretence that you would be going to agricultural college. But getting ungraded in Physics O Level and Grade D in Biology was a pretty good indication to everyone that this was not a direction in which you are headed. You feel you are letting your parents down, but you’re not. They want what’s best for you and will support you in whatever you do. You know that deep down. At the moment, because you’ve suddenly found out that German is the only subject you excel at, you intend to be a German teacher. Fine, you think that now, but don’t put all your eggs in that basket. Your career is likely to take a very different direction. You recently joined the Liberal Party and have discovered an interest in politics. If I told you now that Margaret Thatcher would have a huge influence on your future life and that you would write books about her, you’d probably laugh. Throughout your career you’ll come across people you feel inferior to or that in some way they are better than you. You will envy the self assurance and confidence of those who have been to public school and Oxbridge. Fight it. You know deep down they are no better than you, but it is true that you will always have to fight that bit harder than they do to get where you want to be.

You know as well as I do that you are, and will be, under tremendous pressure to conform - not just to what is expected of you career-wise, but also in your personal life. People will expect you to get a girlfriend - indeed, a succession of them - and get married and live happily ever after. Just like most of your friends and cousins (except most of them end up divorced!). Life ain’t like that, as you are already coming to realise. You don’t have to pretend to me. I know the inner feelings you’ve had since the age of eight, and so do you. You know that society in 1978 demands you should feel ashamed. But you don’t. And you’re right not to. So far so good.

The Britain of 2010 is very different from that of 1978. You won’t believe me now, but one day you will somehow summon up the courage to be open about exactly who - and what - you are. The path won’t be smooth and one or two people will be hurt along the way, and it may well mean that you don’t achieve what you want to in your career, but you will have no regrets. No one you care about will shun you, you just need the courage to say ‘accept me for who I am or do the other thing’.

You’re scared. That’s natural. You won’t make the first move. You carry on the pretence for some time, and break a number of female hearts along the way. You’re not playing them along - you genuinely care about them, but deep down you know that there’s something not quite right, that you need more. So you get to a certain stage and won’t go further. One day - and it’s some time off, everything will fall into place. I promise you that one day you’ll find what you’re looking for. And you’ll be happy.

You have a wonderful life to look forward to, one which most people would envy. It’s not all smooth sailing - it would be boring if it was, wouldn’t it? But if it’s any consolation, you’d probably settle for it now.

Bonne chance