Sir Mark Sedwill
I went up to the Hall in the late 1980s after four years at St Andrews University and had an awesome couple of years squeezing sport and socialising alongside my studies for an MPhil in Economics, taught by some of the world’s leading economists, including Steve Nickell, John Vickers and the late Jim Mirrlees. I still use the insights as National Security Adviser and Cabinet Secretary (although learning from the best also taught me that I was never going to be a world-class economist).
After graduation and some travel, including work as a scuba-diving instructor which almost prompted me to drop out and spend the rest of my life on a beach, I joined the Diplomatic Service. I’m still here almost 30 years later. I learnt Arabic, serving in Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq as a UN weapons inspector, and then in south Asia with postings in Pakistan and first as ambassador and later the NATO special representative in Afghanistan.
Since then, I have been based in Whitehall. First, I went back to the Foreign Office as Political Director (the department’s trouble-shooter) and then to the Home Office as Permanent Secretary. After four years there, I became National Security Adviser last year and was recently appointed Cabinet Secretary. In those jobs, I advise the Prime Minister and Cabinet on the country’s international and domestic security, economic and social policies, and coordinate the development and deployment of the UK’s national capabilities to deliver them. I find myself drawing daily from my experience from three decades serving the country overseas, and from the education and mental disciplines I developed at university beforehand.
To a young man brought up in a rural village and educated at a country grammar school, St Andrews and Oxford were big steps into a bigger world. But like all nomads, I yearn for the points of continuity. The friends I made at the Hall are friends for life: we still meet every year and go to the rugby at Twickenham. If St Andrews stimulated my decision to pursue a diplomatic career, Oxford equipped me to make a success of it. It’s been worthwhile, enormous fun and endlessly fascinating. I’ve never looked back, except with affection and gratitude to the place from which I embarked.