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My life as a (non) spy

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When I was in my final year at university, a senior member of staff asked me if I would be interested in applying for a job with Britain’s intelligence agencies. It was the kind of thing I had read about in books but never actually imagined happened in real life. But it did, and quite frequently it appears – one of my colleagues at Reuters was also approached while at a different university – and I know of several others.

At the time, I thought it was a strange call by the secret services. I had been involved in student journalism almost since day one of university and had gained something of a reputation for not being shy about reporting stories that did not reflect well on my immediate contemporaries – a front page story “‘Blazered w**kers close bar’” did not win me many friends in the rugby team.

Still, the idea of MI6 seemed impossibly glamorous and mysterious and I said I would be interested. I duly received an anonymous letter in the post that began “From time to time, jobs become available at the Foreign Office that are not advertised publicly” or words to that effect.

It was accompanied by a thick application form, which asked for details seemingly of everone I had ever met. I still have that form in a box somewhere at home. I never filled it in – partly because my then-boyfriend now-husband told me he wasn’t prepared to be a spook spouse, but mainly because I wanted to travel the world as a journalist, not a government spy.

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