Reporter reunited with their long-lost first article, 22 years later

Almost exactly a year from the day my dad died, something beyond incredible happened. And it was all down to him.

Photo of Rebecca and her dad
Rebecca and her dad.

22 years ago, I was a student at the University of Leicester writing for their paper The Ripple. Since 2020, it has been known as the Leicester Student Magazine. I loved, and still love, writing. I wanted to be a journalist, so joining the team was perfect for gaining valuable experience and contacts. It was a brilliant experience, and I am still in touch with people I used to write alongside. One of my most memorable articles was about why there are so many seagulls in Leicester – you cannot get farther from the sea!

My dad was a brilliant writer and always asked for a copy of The Ripple whenever I had an article printed. He is the one who taught me how to craft a headline and how to nail the perfect 'knobbly monster'. A knobbly monster is tabloid newsroom slang for that tricky second reference in copy to your subject when you have already used the obvious or only word for it.

The then-editor, whose name escapes me, took a call from The Independent one morning in July 2002. They needed an article written about moving to the Midlands for university. Hailing from Newport in South Wales, I launched myself at the opportunity. 

Dad helped me, and together, we compiled a list of reasons why studying at Leicester was perfect for me. Here is that list:

  • Far enough away from home to be independent but close enough to come home if needed.
  • The university's reputation for academic success, solid welfare support and helpful career advice. Not to mention the 80-odd student societies!
  • Catered halls. I lived in Red Block, Digby Hall, for my first year and loved it.
  • The city's sports and arts reputation. I will forever support the Leicester Tigers and the Foxes.
  • Leicester is home to two universities, catering for a high percentage of students in term time.

I also talked about student loans in the article. A whole generation of university graduates here in the UK have student loans to repay. Anyone who started higher education in 1990 has been eligible, which means that even those who graduated 25 years ago could still have them. I bemoaned in the article that I had had over £11,000 of student loan debt by the time I graduated. I actually owed over £17,000 upon graduation and am still paying it back. Students today have it far worse: according to the House of Commons Library, the forecast average debt among students in England who started their course in 2022/23 will be £45,600.

A couple of drafts later, I submitted my first article for a national paper at age 20! I still list it as a career highlight on my CV. It was published on 8 August 2022, and Dad could not have been more excited. He bought a copy of the newspaper and told everyone who would listen, perhaps quicker than social media would today.

I did not buy a copy of the paper myself. I knew someone had already done that, so I did not need to. Still, at 20, I was happy to defer responsibility to a parent. I trusted him completely to keep it safe.

I was interviewed on BBC Radio Leicester after it was published. Another first! I also put my confidence in pitching articles to The Independent and other newspapers down to this first positive experience.

I have gone on to work as a freelance journalist for the BBC, and it is a beautiful career. I learn every day and meet the most exciting and extraordinary people. Dad would have made a brilliant journalist. He was a true wordsmith, and he would have found the best stories and then told them in the most entertaining ways. He was a teacher, and I suspect his storytelling made its mark on many students.

He died in 2022, and it floored me. Grief is overwhelming, numbing, confusing, and frightening. If I hear Fleetwood Mac, smell kedgeree, or spot a bottle of Malbec, it gets hard all over again.

The smallest of things help. My son uses Dad's Kindle, my daughter quotes him, and my stepmum pings through any photos that pop up in her memories. We will continue to celebrate his birthday every year, too.

I lost the article from The Independent. Like I said, I never bought a copy myself.

While sorting through Dad's things, I spotted his copy of the paper. Still, it got accidentally binned in the hullabaloo of everything. I was so despondent. Not because I had lost the only copy of my first-ever article for a national newspaper but because I had lost something important to him that he had protected.

But then something incredible happened. One of Dad's oldest friends dropped by in August last year with an envelope, saying she thought I might like it. 

In the envelope was my article.

Dad was so proud of me that he photocopied it and gave it to all his friends. 22 years ago.

The Independent article titled 'Every student should spend a year in halls of residence'
  • The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the Great Central Gazette or its members.

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