OPINION - The cachet of elite degrees is absurd — genius is found on every street

Rob Rinder.  Evening Standard byline photo.  (NATASHA PSZENICKI)
Rob Rinder. Evening Standard byline photo. (NATASHA PSZENICKI)

I’ve got a fairly random buffet of talents: I can cross-examine war criminals, dance a fabulous cha-cha, and make a packet of Monster Munch disappear in less than 10 seconds (one day I’ll do all three at once). I can speak decent French and Russian, conduct a medium-sized orchestra and know who won every Olympic figure skating event since the Seventies.

But that random grab-bag of skills doesn’t give you the whole story.

If you want to know Rinder in the round, you have to understand that I’m useless at just as many things. There’s my absence of fashion sense … I’m the gay that style forgot (my most carefully chosen outfits can reduce the chic to tears). When it comes to cooking I’m genuinely appalling … my efforts on Celebrity Bake Off looked like I’d emptied out the nearest U-bend then covered it in icing. Any attempt at DIY is tragic … ask me to unscrew the gland nut on a stopcock, and I wouldn’t know where to start.

But because I’m a barrister and have got some qualifications (and am lucky enough to be on TV), the world jumps to the conclusion that I’m a billion times more competent than I am. I feel a bit like Sister Wendy Beckett — when it was suggested to her that she was very clever (having got a first from Oxford), she disagreed … she thought she’d just got the ability to put all her goods “in the shop window”.

In truth, wherever I look I see people who nabbed sparkly degrees or fell into fancy sounding professions getting buckets of unearned admiration. It’s all the worse when you remember that many just rode waves of privilege to get there. After years hanging out in the legal, political and academic worlds, I can confirm that — like everywhere else — they contain a mix of both the genuinely brilliant and deeply stupid.

At the same time, there are people working all sorts of trades that don’t get anywhere near their fair share of the world’s respect … Some of the most emotionally curious and intellectually dazzling people I’ve ever met didn’t pass within a mile of a dreaming spire, and do jobs that the world will never call glamorous. Whilst some might not have wanted to, circumstances sadly meant that many never got a chance to join the so-called “elite” professions.

But they’re doing work of real consequence and quality in so many places. All across the country, in a million unsung roles, people are doing mind-bogglingly important things with jaw-dropping expertise.

But still we let people in a handful of jobs hoover up all the cachet.

It’s got to stop … we have to keep remembering that excellence is everywhere, and genius lives on every street. We all contain multitudes.

It all boils down to this: if we meet, don’t quote your CV at me, tell me the interesting stuff instead — about you, your skills and aspirations … when all is said and done, it’s the only way that we can find people who are truly worthy of respect.

Hammond raises the bar

I’ve been spending the last week trying to become a bit less wobbly … whenever I glanced downwards, there was just too much Rinder for comfort. So I headed off to Jason Vale’s juicing retreat in Portugal for a week of frothy liquids and hard exercise.

Among the many wonderful people there was the heavenly Alison Hammond. She brought her own brand of magic to the trip and gave the juicing rules her own spin … she mostly decided to take them, but sometimes chose to leave them. The results are great for her but the main thing is that she remained at all times completely joyous.

Following rules is important (as a lawyer, I feel obliged to say that) but when all’s said and done, writing them yourself and being authentic is what matters most. I’m going to try and take some of the Hammond energy into 2023 … she’s just spectacular.