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Former TV wedding planner Anthony was expelled from school before his GCSEs - now he's just gained first class honours in his law degree

Once best-known as one half of TV pair Ant and Dic, Antrim's Anthony Miller has become one of the UK's top graduates. He tells Laurence White how family tragedy prompted him to completely turn his life around

Published 27/06/2016

High achiever: Anthony Miller
High achiever: Anthony Miller
Free spirit: Anthony in his childhood days
Anthony in his childhood
Anthony with his nephew Aidan, who tragically passed away
Law and order: Anthony dressed for his new career
Anthony with business partner Richard Jones

Today Antrim-born model, television personality and wedding planner Anthony Miller is basking in the knowledge that he is one of the top law graduates in England having just been awarded a First Class Honours degree in the subject.

That achievement, putting him in the top 8% or 9% of those who took a law course, is all the more remarkable given his less than distinguished academic career when at school in his home town.

Born in the Stiles estate in Antrim, he left St Joseph's Primary School having failed the 11-plus and then was expelled from St Malachy's High School before his GCSEs.

He finished school with no qualifications but had a modelling contract from the age of 15.

Anthony, now 37, recalls: "I was a bit of a free spirit and didn't like the confines of a strict Catholic school. I suppose I really was a rebel without a cause.

"The odd thing was that I did quite well in tests as I was going through school but then got myself expelled. It wasn't for anything major, more a case of I would not follow the rules of the school and not turning up for classes as often as I should have".

Having already had a modelling contract for the now defunct Temple of the Pharaohs agency, Anthony was not overly concerned about leaving school. "The modelling contract probably contributed to my behaviour at school. In my mind, I was off to run the world, although it didn't take too long to discover that my dreams were just that, dreams."

However, by the age of 21 he was running the modelling agency and had featured in his first television show, a BBC NI fly-on-the-wall documentary featuring a photo-shoot by agency models in Scotland.

Anthony is certainly a people person and it was a characteristic which led him to a very varied career before settling down to studying law.

He moved to London at the age of 25 and set up a wedding planning service with his friend Richard Jones under the cute title of Ant and Dic. The couple were among the first to plan the civil partnership celebrations of gay couples, a niche that got them featured on Wedding TV on Sky.

"The programme sold around the world, to America, mainland Europe and Canada," says Anthony.

"We continued with that business for 10 years and did very well with it. We were among the leaders in the market and helped plan the weddings of Belfast-born West End star Rachel Tucker, former Miss GB, Gemma Garrett and actress Victoria Alcock, best known for her role in the ITV drama series Bad Girls.

"But in a way I still think we were a little ahead of our time. However, it did raise our profile and I was getting a lot of attention from the media in Northern Ireland, so we decided to move back to the province. We continued to run the business here for a few years, but from my point of view something was missing. I felt there was a call awaiting me, even if I did not know what it was."

It was a domestic tragedy which concentrated Anthony's mind and set him on a completely different track.

In September 2011, his sister Angela's four-year-old son Aidan died from an aggressive brain cancer. "That was a real blow and made me reconsider my life and what I wanted to do with it. It really put life into perspective."

While Anthony may not have had any paper qualifications he had "an inquisitive mind and an ambitious spirit" and decided he would like to be a lawyer.

"I contacted a few universities to see if there was any chance of being accepted onto their law courses. It was more in hope than expectation and I was absolutely thrilled to be accepted by Staffordshire University in the west Midlands where I now live.

"I was surprised to find that my previous career experience was enough to get me in, so I decided to enrol in 2012. The first day I went to the university I was absolutely petrified. I had always got by in life with a wink and a cheeky grin, but now I was meeting lots of people I didn't know and I knew I would get no special favours. It was really daunting."

He adds: "For the first week every day I thought I am going home. What really changed my mind was a 'mooting' competition. It was really testing your ability to appear in the appeal courts. I won the first round of it and that gave me the confidence to think that maybe I could make a go of law.

"In my first year I came top of the league in these competitions beating first, second, third and post-graduate students. In my second year I established a law society in the university and became its president in my third year."

Anthony is convinced that some guiding spirit has been at work. "God gives all of us something. For a lot of my life I thought I had found it in my previous careers, but nothing gave me what studying law has done for me. When you get the result that you want the feeling is unbeatable."

It was late last week when Anthony discovered that he had obtained a First Class honours degree. "I awakened at 6.30am and spent the next two and a half hours refreshing my computer browser every 30 seconds to see if the results were posted.

"It has not really sunk in it. I keep asking myself - did I really get that result?

"I think my background was a big help. I have worked in the media, both appearing on television and writing columns on fashion and even being an agony uncle. Working in the media means you have to research your stories, be able to interview people and get the best out of them.

"Those are skills you also need as a lawyer. I had that sort of training but wasn't aware of it. It also helps that I have done a lot of live presenting to audiences on television and on radio."

Anthony says that his family have been delighted by his success. Back home in Antrim for a short break, he adds: "They are over the moon. By coincidence my younger sister Maria is also studying law. She was really excited for me when I got my result but now feels that she is under pressure to do well also. She is going to a part-time course and in her first assignment got a mark of 80% - so I think she will do very well."

Anthony is now waiting to start his post-graduate studies and wants to be a solicitor advocate - a role similar to that of a barrister. Although as a solicitor he would have speaking rights in the higher courts.

His favoured speciality is commercial law and those old dreams of taking over the world are still there.

"Commercial law firms need to work on an international basis - in the UK one day, in the Middle East another and then perhaps somewhere in Europe after that. I wouldn't mind that sort of role at some stage of my career, but first I have to do the post-graduate work and then find a firm to employ me."

While he has largely forsaken his previous celebrity life, Anthony still dabbles in the world of modelling, advising would-be-models on the industry. He is also passionate about using what he calls "real" women in modelling.

"It is important the young women have appropriate role models and that those role models are promoted more," he says.

"I was delighted when one of the models I had been tutoring, Erin Davies, debuted immediately afterwards at Belfast Fashionweek and she is now the face of CastleCourt shopping mall in the city."

Another of his passions is fighting the scourge of litter louts. In 2011, he joined the Belfast Telegraph and Tidy NI's Big Spring Clean campaign. He pointed out that some of his favourite riverside walks from his youth were now despoiled by dumped litter including shopping trolleys thrown into the water.

He says: "I am still trying to change the world slowly but surely."

Belfast Telegraph

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