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A Level Results: 7 Famous Failures


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A-level qualifications may well forecast your future educational moves, but they don’t automatically mean you’ve failed at life - as these famous flunkers will tell you.

As the national A-level results day looms and the expected nerves really begin to settle in, it’s probably worth remembering that, although it would be great to do well, it may not necessarily prove to be the be all and end all of your future career success.

A whole host of the nation’s finest left school without any qualifications at all and still managed to work their way into incredible positions of power. If you’re feeling a little too nervy ahead of opening that ominous brown envelope, or you need an inspirational story or two to kick your brain back into gear, look no further than the following figures:

Jeremy Clarkson

The former Top Gear presenter and successful top-flight columnist has bagged millions from his television work alone, not to mention the revenue he must have gained from the many, many books he has published over the past 20 years (the list is seemingly endless).

And yet, Clarkson’s A-level results weren’t quite in keeping with his success, as the famous motor-mouth achieved just a C and two U-grades. Years on, despite his frequent controversies and media outcries, Clarkson is one of the UK’s leading motor journalists – proof that exams don’t necessarily determine everything.

Jon Snow

Quit your swooning, we’re not talking about Game of Thrones’s loveable rogue (pretty sure A-levels don’t exist in Westeros) – surprisingly enough, it’s actually the Channel 4 newsreader and all-round British national treasure we’re interested in here. One of ITN’s most famed journalists with a career spanning over 30 years, Jon Snow – believe it or not – left school with a C and two fails at A-level. After re-sitting he managed to just about scrape a D and an E, but he never let such defeat hold him back. The patron of an endless amount of charities, Snow boasts a BAFTA fellowship for his tenure with Channel 4 and even at one point declined an OBE from the Queen herself. Not too shabby.

Deborah Meaden

The fearless business tycoon and star of BBC’s Dragon’s Den got to where she is today surprisingly enough, entirely without A-levels. Although she did spend some time studying at a technical college in Brighton in her younger days, Meaden’s £40 million net worth is almost entirely down to her innate desire to work hard, proving that fancy qualifications aren’t everything after all. In fact, as a result of her later success, Meaden has been awarded a number of honorary degrees, meaning university success can even still come in later life.

Simon Cowell

Known across the globe for his nasty demeanour on talent shows ranging from The X Factor to Britain’s Got Talent, Cowell has found incredible success through producing the shows himself via his company Syco, which was initially set-up as a record-label in 2002. In the past ten years alone, the famous straight-talking money-man has netted over £200 million both from his television roles and his booming music business, having discovered famed artists and groups such as Susan Boyle, Westlife and of course, One Direction. Yet, in spite of all of his insane business success, Cowell left school without any A-levels at all, avoiding education altogether. Wow.

Guy Ritchie

World-renowned filmmaker and former husband to pop legend Madonna Guy Ritchie has seen his career rocket in recent years since first starting out with low-budget British gangster flicks Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch at the turn of the millennium. Having directed Robert Downey Jr. in the huge-scale blockbuster re-boot of Sherlock Holmes, and its sequel, Ritchie has seen significant box-office success, and all without any educational backing at all. Like Cowell, Ritchie too left school without A-levels but has still managed to set himself up as a considerable voice within the Hollywood machine. His latest, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is even released this week. How fitting.

Sir Richard Branson

Possibly the most surprising entry on the list, mega-rich business mogul and face of Virgin enterprises Richard Branson also entered the working world without a single A-level qualification to his name. Despite lacking the educational prowess apparently needed to advance in the world, Branson still went on to set up his own chain of music stores, a record label, an airline, a bank, and even, a private spaceflight company. To date, he is estimated to be worth somewhere in the region of nearly $5 billion. Who needs exams after all, eh?

Cheryl Fernandez-Versini

Believe it or not, the chart-topping pop princess and face of L’Oreal wasn’t a particularly big fan of school and education, leaving long before she could get her hands on any A-levels. Instead, she pursued a career in singing and performing and well, the rest is history. Having been a talent show judge, the member of a popular girl group and an award-winning solo artist in her own right, Cheryl has very much conquered the music industry on both sides of the Atlantic, and all without a single educational qualification. Impressive.

So, you see, it's not all doom and gloom if you don't quite get the results you wanted. Success is always possibe!

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