Pupils welcomed Dido Harding, chief executive of TalkTalk plc and ranked as one of the most powerful women in the UK by Radio 4's Women's Hour Power List, to the school last week. Her talk, entitled Striving for Success, explored the main factors to which she attributes her success in business and on the race track, and was attended by pupils from St Swithun's and other local schools.
The audience heard how Ms Harding approached the three aims that she set herself on leaving university: to run a business, to ride round Aintree and to own a dog. She stressed the importance of determination and of remaining true to oneself. Indeed, she found herself leaving Tesco, which she loved, because at that time the Tesco idea of a female top executive was so far removed from her own character.
The success of her horse, Cool Dawn, in the Cheltenham Gold Cup led to her believing that "dreams really can come true". However, as a jockey she sometimes found herself underperforming in key races. She eventually understood that this was associated with her mental preparation, an important consideration worth bearing in mind by all members of the audience.
Through a number of witty anecdotes, she also identified the role of failure in developing resilience and in leading to improved performance; a point which is often echoed by St Swithun's headmistress Jane Gandee as part of the school's ethos. Ms Harding left the audience with her personal motto, which came from her grandfather: "You can only be brave when you're afraid".