Was I wrong not to use my father’s connections to open doors?
Victoria Young avoided using her father’s help at work – and so made things far harder for herself
Guardian, The The New York Times. Standard, Evening
When Brooklyn Beckham recently announced that he would be photographing the new Burberry campaign, the cries of “nepotism!” were perhaps inevitable. But seeing the pictures of the 16-year-old snapping away, I felt not so much resentment as a bit sorry for him. Did he not, I wondered, feel a bit of a fraud doing the kind of job for which most professional photographers wait their whole career? He must have known in his heart that he didn’t quite deserve it. Not yet, at least. As for charges that his parents, David and Victoria, were helping their son get a leg up: well, wouldn’t most of us do the same? According to recent YouGov research, 84 per cent of us would use personal contacts to ease our children into a job. Research by the Debrett’s Foundation, meanwhile, found that seven in 10 young Britons used their connections to get a foot on the ladder. Not that it’s all rosy for those who make use of parental connections. “The downside of nepotism can be that the recipient is always looking over their shoulder, wondering what people are saying, and not feeling they have earned it on their own,” says Benjamin Fry, psychotherapist and founder of mental health service Khironhouse.com. “That feeling that you’re really in your element usually comes from something you have created for yourself – and knowing you are good at it. If you know your place in the world is contingent on other people then you are much more vulnerable and less centred.” Which brings me to the story of my own career. My father was Hugo Young, who was well known as a political columnist when I was growing up. When I was wondering what to do with my life, journalism was an obvious choice: I’m a nosy parker and was rubbish at anything but English at school. Yet, acutely aware of my privileged access, I was so paranoid about the possible charge of nepotism that I went to great lengths to avoid asking my father for help. I couldn’t bear the idea that anyone would think I was getting anything because of him. Aged 18, I had neither university nor travel plans arranged, so when my dad suggested setting up a meeting with a colleague on I initially said yes please. When this colleague asked if I wanted to write a piece, I turned in something which, with a few changes, she said she’d publish. I couldn’t believe my luck. But did I take her up on it? No, I did not. I couldn’t shake the feeling that she was just being kind, because my dad was a colleague, and it felt like an empty victory. So off I went into the wilderness to fight through the thickets on my own. It took years to find my feet and my direction. Eventually I took my dad up on another offer of help. I’d started a degree at Sheffield University, which involved a year in Buffalo, New York. That summer my dad introduced me to his friend Joseph Lelyveld, then executive editor of I felt OK about this because by then I’d worked out that an introduction is one thing, but getting, and keeping, a job is quite another. That meeting led to a job that lasted for three years. There was only one other time that my father’s job worked for me. As a reporter for the I was sent to interview Julie Burchill, who disliked both the paper and its envoys. We met at a hotel in Brighton, where she refused to answer any questions until she’d grilled me to within an inch of my life. When she winkled my father’s identity out of me, she