The award-winning historian Dan Snow talks about his days of self discovery at St Paul’s School in west London and where his love for history started.

 Where did you go to school and when?

 I went to St Paul’s School in Barnes during the Nineties.

 Did you enjoy it? 

 I loved it. I found being a teenage boy difficult and I was always terrible at sport, but at SPS I found two sports I was good at, which was rugby and rowing; they  didn’t require much co-ordination but it was good if you were tall and strong. 

 What were your favourite subjects?

 English, History and Politics. My A-Levels. One of the joys of the British education system – or possibly its greatest failing – is you can give up everything. I loved being able to whittle down the subjects I wanted to give up. I ended up rowing and playing rugby and doing English, History and Politics – I was in heaven really. I spent the whole of one term studying The Tempest. At one time I was studying Edmund Burke in Politics, the French Revolution in History and Tale of Two Cities so I was a machine because all three subjects pointed in the same direction so I had a huge advantage. 

dan snow

 Who was your favourite teacher?

 Keith Perry –my history teacher. He was fantastic. He treated us like adults. He gave me a great love of the 18th century in particular which has stayed with me for the rest of my life. 

 What was your favourite activity at school?

 Taking part in team sport which took me away from home. It taught me about existing within groups; the freedom and excitement of going to places –  it was about developing my own sovereignty over myself. It was so exciting. 

 What is your most vivid memory of your school days?

 I remember travelling in a minibus to rowing races and thinking, ‘This is what adult life is like. I’m not with my parents, I’m with my own peer group, we’re driving off to an event with no adult supervision, we could stop and eat what we wanted, talk about what we wanted.’ I felt like I was coming of age. 

 Where did hang out at school?

 Students in the sixth form had lockers with a desk, an area which you could work in and I was lucky enough to be close to my two best friends  – Theo and Ben.  They were – and still are – two of the most intelligent and brilliant people I know – and we competed in a friendly way and drove each other on. I owe them a huge amount really. They are a big part of the reason I did so well at school. 

 Did you ever get in to trouble? 

 I did once… I got very drunk after a rowing race and failed to turn up at school the next day where I was supposed to be giving a speech about the Republican Principle of the American Revolution.

 What was your greatest achievement?

 I had many sporting achievements – we won at everything. We were the best rugby team in the country, we won the rowing national championships and I got three As at A-Level. But in a way that was not healthy for me; schools are good at giving you a framework and you can achieve within that but that doesn’t really have much to do with the real world. I left school at 18 thinking I was really rather wonderful but then I realised that that doesn’t set you up to be a nice, good and compassionate person or to succeed in the more complex world. It is much harder to navigate your way through the world than it is to win a rowing race. I guess I succeeded at everything at school but that wasn’t necessarily the best start in life. 

 What drives you?

Always looking forward. I’m always interested in the next challenge. I always think about the next thing – if you go to my house now, there are no pictures of me rowing for Oxford or winning awards on the telly or whatever. I don’t think those things really matter.

What matters is happiness – enduring personal fulfilment – if you win 5 BAFTAS but you are a broken alcoholic 10 years later then that is completely irrelevant right. I know that winning the Oxford & Cambridge Boat Race has been a foundation of my life – I lost it also and that was in fact the making of me – but winning it is not going to be an important source of happiness to me in the next 10 years. What is going to make me happy is a successful marriage, career and parenthood. I don’t see the point in dwelling on past triumphs and failures. When you study history you’re constantly surrounded by the greatest and most remarkable human beings who have ever lived. You kind of never think that you are that good or impressive. Napoleon had conquered the whole of Europe by the time he was my age. 

 Where did your love of history come from? 

 It came from a childhood of going to castles, battlefields,  museums and galleries and hearing stories about our past. Everything is history in our family; my dad (the newsreader Peter Snow) loves history, both personally and now as an author. My aunt is a professor of history at Oxford (Margaret MacMillan, this year’s Reith lecturer). My grandmother was a ferocious oral historian – a storyteller. We all love history. 

 What are you doing now?

 My dream has been to make history accessible using all the modern technology available. So I’ve launched, a new online only channel for history lovers. It works like Netflix, you pay a subscription and watch as many history programmes as you like. It’s stuffed with lots of the best history programmes in the world. We launched in December last year. We already have thousands of subscribers. It’s for a general audience of history fans but we know it’s already being used in schools. 

I did a successful History Hit tour in the summer which returns in the New Year and I’m also working on a book project for Christmas. 

 Why does history matter? 

Because it is everything that has ever happened on this planet. It’s why societies are organised the way they are. It’s why we interact the way we do, why we speak the way we do.  It’s why you go on holiday to Sicily and not Somalia. It’s why Brexit is happening. Why Donald Trump happened.  It’s why Russia is poisoning people on British soil. It defines and controls us.

Dan Snow History Hit UK Tour, nationwide from 22nd January to 29 March 2019, visit for more info and tickets.