The 19 best pieces of advice ever given

Saturday, 29 December 2012 - 3:38pm IST
Even the most wizened of misers will be generous with one thing - their advice. People love to give it.

Even the most wizened of misers will be generous with one thing - their advice. People love to give it. No matter how sad the jilted lover, everyone else will be only too happy to tell him or her about the other fish in the sea. Patience may be a virtue, but wise friends can't wait to reveal their trite insights into how best to navigate a path through the emotional maze of life. The modern world means that to even approach a computer results in a tsunami of memes telling you to be strong, or kind, or explaining why friends are like your knicker drawer. Yes, to give advice is clearly one of the greatest pleasures in life, so why, then, do so few people ask for it and an even fewer number actually take it?

We can all recognise the wisdom in really good advice but when we are hunched, sobbing on the bed, very little really helps. Of course, I know what the Persian Sufi poets said: "This, too, will pass," but in reality, until it does, I'm going to feel like moving to Minsk to start a new life.

I firmly believe that the vast majority of those who write to me in this paper aren't really looking for advice. Composing the letter will probably have been the most helpful part and they will have decided on a course of action long before I respond with a lovingly composed epistle. The same is true of the tearful huddle in the wine bar. Telling a friend what's wrong gives the problem a solid form that one can cope with. Leaving things unexpressed means that a worry can transform into a damp grey blanket of gloom that will envelop your whole life. If I was on Facebook right now I might post a picture of some meat with the legend "Problems are like a fine steak - better flash fried than left to stew". In our gut we all know what to do, but sometimes we need someone else to give us a push.

If we are lucky, the best advice will have been given to us as kids. I remember my mother telling me that if I was picked on at school, it was always best not to react. This may have left me emotionally distant, but on the other hand I was never bullied. Before I left school she gave me a good luck card for my exams that said: "You can only do your best, but DO it!" At the time it sounded slightly threatening, but now I realise it was just an Irish mother's version of "Be the best you can be!"

It doesn't matter where the words of wisdom come from, we carry them with us like a talisman. A tiny pebble of certainty in the shifting sands of life. We still fall over, lose our way and get grit in our shoes. But somehow being sure of a truth, no matter what it may be, gives us hope. Happy New Year!

1. Sir Richard Branson, entrepreneur

My mother, Eve, always taught me never to look back in regret but to move on to the next thing. A setback is never a bad experience, just another one of life's lessons.

2. Lionel Shriver, author

Sage advice from my old friend Ruth Dudley Edwards is "Get on with it" - a sound approach to everything. If you have the leisure to think about it, you have time to do it.

3. Esther Rantzen, journalist and founder of ChildLine

I like this 2,000-year-old advice by Rabbi Hillel: "If I am not for me, who will be? If I am only for me, what am I? If not now, when?" I think it means: "Sort yourself out, protect yourself and ensure your own survival - if you don't, you can achieve nothing. However, selfishness is empty, so ensure that you make a positive difference to others, and do it now."

4. Cliff Richard, singer

When I was getting serious about singing, my father told me that if I didn't make it there was still a life to be lived. Then, when I recorded Move It, he asked me: "Do you really want this? If you do then give it your all and give it all the time."

5. Jilly Cooper, author

My darling grandmother told me: "Whenever you meet anybody, look for something nice to say about them, because even if they've got a hideous face they might have fantastic ankles or lovely hair, and compliments do cheer people up enormously." She did cheer people up and I always wanted to emulate her.

6. Gordon Ramsay, chef

Put your head down and work hard. Never wait for things to happen, make them happen for yourself through hard graft and not giving up.

7.Michael Vaughan, former England cricket captain
Darren Lehmann, a team-mate of mine at Yorkshire, told me to make sure I ended my career with no regrets. He meant "don't die wondering". I took that attitude into Strictly Come Dancing.

8. Antonia Fraser, historian

A very old Marquess once said to me: "No gentleman is ever rude by mistake." This seems to me a profound observation about the need for courtesy and consideration to all people at all times. Unless, of course, you have good reason for anger, in which case go for it.

9. Prue Leith, cookery writer and author
On clothing: if it doesn't go in, it can't go on. I seem to remember it was given to me by an irritatingly flab-free fella.

10. Brian Moore, former England rugby player and Telegraph columnist
An admonishment from Mr Hoyle, my English teacher: "Moore, there are two sorts of people in life, those that do and those that sit on the sidelines and snigger. Do I have to tell you which one is more worthy?"

11. Nic Fiddian Green, sculptor

Gandhi said: "Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live for ever."

12. Jo Malone, entrepreneur
Launching my new business, Jo Loves, I chose four key words as my guiding principles: Inspire, Innovate, Ignite, Integrity.

13. Mary Riddell, Daily Telegraph journalist

"Make sure you marry someone who can cook," from my father who could boil neither a kettle nor an egg.

14. Stephen Bayley, author, design guru

I have three favourites: 1. The old Foreign Office directive: never tell a lie but never tell the whole truth, and never miss an opportunity to go to the lavatory. 2. From Henry David Thoreau: "Beware of all enterprises requiring new clothes." 3. From Jay McInerney: "Treat everyone you meet as if you have secret information that they are about to become extremely rich".

15. Max Sinclair, English Heritage Angel Awards winner

For National Service I was desperate to join the RAF, but my father advised me to join the Royal Engineers where I'd learn a skill instead. I have no regrets.

16. Alex Crawford, Sky News correspondent
Harry S Truman said: "The best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and advise them to do it."

17. Steve Cram, former Olympic athlete

Apart from: "Never leave the bar first because everyone will talk about you," the best bit of advice I got was from my coach, aged 14. He said I would never achieve anything if I hadn't already thought that I could. It worked.

18. Joan Bakewell, journalist
When someone annoys you, just imagine them naked. You'll feel their equal.

19.Camila Batmanghelidjh, charity leader

You're not that important; it's what you do that counts.




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