Andrew Adonis, Baron Adonis is described by Wikipedia as a politician, academic and journalist who served in the Labour government for five years and on his own website as a reformer, writer and Labour peer who was Minister for Schools and Transport Secretary under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. He was born in London, educated on a scholarship at Kingham Hill school and then at Oxford University, and spent a week earlier this year travelling London’s bus routes to get a passenger’s view of the system.
What kind of pupil were you like at school?
I was the class swot, which made me highly popular with friends who wanted to copy my homework! I never did much sport at school, to my great regret ever since, because my school only did team sports – and swimming in an unheated swimming pool. I should like to have taken up tennis but never had the chance. But I loved music. My school had a chapel with a pipe organ, and I learned to play it. I have never felt so powerful in my life than playing the organ at full pelt, complete with the bass pedal pipes which made the whole building shake.
What was your favourite subject?
History, by miles – and it has remained my passion ever since.
Is there anything you wish you'd done differently in your time at school?
I wish I had been more gregarious. And I wish I had been given better parts in the school plays. The best I ever managed was the Schools Inspector in “An Inspector Calls.” Come to think of it, I have been playing that role for a lot of my life since school!
Did you have a career plan when you left school?
Yes, in that I wanted to go to university and did so. No, in that I had no good idea what I wanted to do after university.
What was the best thing about University?
The most extraordinary range of activities; great friends; brilliant teachers. A complete liberation from my life before.
What was the most interesting topic you studied there?
The origins of the French Revolution – and understanding why even the most sophisticated societies are liable to complete disintegration if badly governed.
Which of London’s bus routes is your favourite?
The 292, because it is the first one I ever used when I lived in Borehamwood – at the northern extremity of the London bus network – and it became an important part of my life as a child. In those days there was a 292 and a 292A, which followed slightly different routes. Nowadays all the “A” suffixes have gone – too confusing to passengers.
Do you have a favourite place in London (or elsewhere)?
The National Gallery, the most amazing cultural institution in the capital.
Are you a reformer first and a writer second or vice versa?
It depends on the day. Today is a writing day. But then, I am writing about the reform of London.
What is the most important lesson you've learned since leaving school?
Bringing up children is the most demanding and responsible thing you ever do.
What is it like to be a minister in Government?
If you took over as Minister of Schools today what changes would you champion?
I would reinvent the national apprenticeship system, so that there as many apprenticeships for school leavers as university places. At present there are only a third as many.
Who is the most interesting politician you have met?
Roy Jenkins, who had been Labour Home Secretary and Chancellor in the 1960s and was also a distinguished biographer of Churchill and Gladstone.
If you could give one piece of advice to your sixteen-year old self what would it be?
Let up a bit.
Which country you haven’t been to would you most like to visit?
Egypt, when it’s a bit safer.
What is it like to be a Lord?
No different from not being a Lord. And if you think it is, then something is badly wrong. It’s just a means of becoming a member of the Upper Chamber in our antiquated constitution which has a nominated Second Chamber.
What should be done to improve London’s transport?
After the new Crossrail line – going from east to west – there will need to be a second Crossrail line going from north to south, or the tube will be unbearable by the late 2020s.
If you could have lunch with anyone from History who would you choose?
Do you have any ambitions left to achieve? If so, what would they be?
I want the very best for my children.
What question should we have asked you that we haven't?
What do I think of Harris Westminster Sixth Form? A brilliant new institution, and you are all incredibly lucky to have the chance to attend it. I wish it had been around in my day and I would have gone there instead of being stuck out in a boarding school in a remote part of Oxfordshire.