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Date with destiny (Nonesuch autumn 2014)

JP Flintoff and Harriet Green

JP Flintoff and Harriet Green (graduation)

John-Paul and Harriet at their graduation dinner at Thornbury Castle, 1990

5 November 2014

English students John-Paul Flintoff and Harriet Green met at the end of their second year. They married eight years later, have a ten-year-old daughter, and are now writing a book together.

John-Paul Flintoff (BA 1990)

I always knew I wanted to study English, and immediately loved Bristol when I visited. The city had a unique charm, and the professor who interviewed me seemed to be wearing a tea cosy as a hat.

I felt incredibly blessed to be a student at Bristol. I’d been to a rough school, where you kept your back to the wall and looked out for missiles at all times. Suddenly, I was surrounded by people who were actually interested in studying.

Harriet was on my course but, mysteriously, didn’t seem to notice me for two years. We only met because Jane Lunnon (née Cullen) (BA 1990) and Fiona Jantet (née Henderson) (BA 1990) invited me to Harriet’s surprise 21st birthday party. Jane and Fiona were perfectly open about the fact that they really wanted John Yates (BA 1990). He wasn’t available. I expect he’s still kicking himself.

After Harriet and I graduated, we both decided to study for an MA. Harriet specialised in medieval literature; I studied Shakespeare and his influence. During the year, I expressed my wish to become an academic to one of my tutors, Moira Megaw. She told me with characteristic bluntness that I was temperamentally unsuited to it. At the time, I felt bruised, but I’ve come to see she was right. Instead, I left university determined to be a poet. Believe it or not, I was quite shocked to find it impossible to make a living that way.

Happily, studying English had given me confidence in my writing skills, and I took up journalism instead. By now, Harriet had already got a place on the country’s leading journalism course. So I taught myself shorthand, and borrowed her course notes. I started writing for trade magazines, and worked for a time as an investigative reporter. Then I wrote a memoir, Comp: A Survivor’s Tale, about my hair-raising education in a London state school. Soon after, The Financial Times hired me as a feature writer.

My favourite assignments involved immersing myself in real-world jobs and writing about the experience. I was a mini-cab driver, and an undertaker in a ‘green’ funeral business, and I performed in pantomime with Lionel Blair and Linda Lusardi. I also cleaned the windows on the tallest building in Europe.

In 2010, I was worried about climate change, and wrote a book, Sew Your Own, about trying to save the planet by making my own clothes (yes, really). I then joined the faculty of The School of Life, and wrote a more general guide about making change, How to Change the World. It’s been published in 14 languages, and I gave a follow-up talk at TEDxAthens.

My greatest achievement by far has been to marry Harriet. We’d been together for a long time when our friends started getting married. We went out to dinner and decided to do the same. I drew a cartoon conveying this happy news and faxed it to our parents. We married in December, at a tea dance in a London hotel, less than a month before my 30th birthday.

I’m currently working on a historical novel, What If The Queen Should Die? Years ago, a friend asked me which king or queen Shakespeare would have written about if he’d lived to hear their life story. I suggested Queen Anne: she betrayed her father, who cursed her, and she lost 17 children. 

Together, Harriet and I are also writing a book about family, that’s due to be published next year. It’s a creative workbook to help people better understand who they are, where they come from, and what they will leave behind.

Harriet and I have always worked closely together, and often ask each other to read things we’ve written. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy: Harriet can be brutally honest. But my toughest critic is – and has always been – my greatest supporter too.

Harriet Green (BA 1990)

My brother was at boarding school in Bristol, so I spent a lot of time there throughout my childhood, and always loved the city.

I was originally meant to be reading Russian. I arrived in 1986, spent four weeks struggling with Chekhov and Dostoevsky in the original and knew I was in trouble. I looked with envy at friends studying English. What madness had led me to choose Russian? I assumed I’d be able to switch courses fairly easily. But English at Bristol was a fiendishly difficult course to get onto. I had to leave and reapply the following year – a big gamble. My parents were distinctly unimpressed and packed me off to London the next day to get a job. Thankfully, it paid off.

I vividly remember my interview in the Department of English on Woodland Road with Myra Stokes and Tom Mason, both tutors I came to admire very much. If they hadn’t let me in, I’ve no idea what I would have done. I’d certainly never have met John-Paul (JP).

I adored the course but I wasn’t as conscientious as I should have been, particularly in the first year when we were made to learn Anglo-Saxon. It was as painful as studying Russian all over again. But I made great and lasting friends in the department. I also smoked too much and stole many cigarettes from John-Jo Moody (BA 1990).

I vaguely remember JP from the first year. I’m ashamed to admit I thought he looked a bit gormless. Our first date was at Pizza Provencale. We split the bill, and we still have the wine bottle.

I always wanted to be a journalist and applied for a journalism postgraduate programme in my final year. I got in; JP didn’t. I graduated during an awful recession and took the first job I was
offered, on Media Week, a trade magazine for the advertising industry.

I moved to Campaign just as the economy was revving up again. Campaign was nicknamed ‘Champagne’ for a very good reason; I ate at The Ivy most weeks. I then worked briefly at the Daily Telegraph before joining Harpers and Queen as Deputy Editor. I was part of the team that reinvented the magazine as a global fashion brand, Harper’s Bazaar.

Now, I’m Editor of the Family section of The Guardian. Family is a standalone section of the Saturday paper that has  apassionate following among readers.

JP and I have spent more than half our lives together, so working together isn’t difficult. He’s my best friend and has been since the moment we got together in June 1989. He’s also extremely good at washing up.

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