There's a huge amount of pressure on young people to do well in their GCSEs, and not doing as well as hoped can be overwhelmingly disappointing. However you must remember a set of grades doesn't define you, and by maintaining your self-belief you can go on to be a huge success. Here are 8 people that did just that:

alan sugar

Lord Sugar left school at the age of 16 and started a short-lived career in the civil service as a Statistician, before choosing to sell electrical items instead. At the age of 21 he founded Amstrad (Alan Michael Sugar TRADing). Two years later he was manufacturing low-priced hi-fi turntable covers and in 1980, aged 33, Sugar floated his company on the London Stock Exchange. Today he has a net worth of £1.4 billion.

samantha marcus

Our very own Samantha Marcus spent several years working in the behavioural unit of a secondary school in Manchester before she joined the youth charity Power2 in 2011.

“I sometimes felt like everything was my fault when I was at school. I left when I was 14. It’s one of the many reasons why I’m inspired to work with young people now.”

Samantha left school at the age of 14 without any GCSEs. Years later she went to college and then onto university to gain the qualifications she needed to build her career in youth services. The talented mother-of-two, is now the charity’s North West Head of Operations.

Sir Richard Branson

Someone who is often cited as proof of how far you can go without qualifications, Branson has dyslexia and struggled with his exams. Leaving school at 16, he immediately started his first business venture, a magazine called Student, before going on to found the Virgin Group. He now controls over 400 companies through the Virgin Group, has been knighted and is worth £4 billion.

Robbie was predicted to do well for his GCSEs. Both his teachers and his parents expected him to go on to A-levels and university. However he failed every single GCSE he took. However he joined Take That soon after and hasn’t looked back since. Robbie is now one of the most successful British artists of all time and is worth over £150 million.

Simon Cowell

Leaving school with 2 O levels in English Literature and English Language, Cowell managed to secure a role in the mail room of record company, EMI. He then went on to become a talent scout at EMI before founding a number of his own record companies. He is now one of the most famous people on the planet, known as a music mogul and talent show judge with an eye for superstars with the ‘X Factor’.


The singer, dancer and television personality has openly admitted that she didn’t pay much attention to studying, preferring to bunk off school. However she has gone on to huge success as a member of Girls Aloud, a solo artist, an X Factor judge, and the face of L’Oreal.

Writing for the Huffington Post in an insightful blog, Cheryl outlined the importance of having a role model. "You don't have to be from a large family to have a happy childhood, but you do need to have that one role model. Someone you can look up to or ask for advice every now and then."

karl pilkington

As revealed on his, Ricky and Stephen Merchant's XFM radio show, Karl got one GCSE, an E in History. Shortly after leaving school, Pilkington took a job in a printing firm. But after a chance to work in hospital radio came up, he decided that that would be a career he’d prefer. After that he moved to London and had been working as a producer on XFM for eight years before he met Ricky Gervais. The rest is history.

Sidenote: Karl was very surprised he only earned one GCSE as he had definitely turned up for more, but it transpired he didn't fill in the forms properly to get registered, so none of his other GCSEs counted. So, Karl provides a lesson in reading the small print, as well as self-belief.

charlie mullins

From the age of 9 Charlie Mullins knew he wanted to be a plumber. Aged 15 he started a four-year apprenticeship and then set up his own company, which today employs over 200 people.  Now 56 years old, Mullins runs Pimlico Plumbers and is worth £70 million. His advice for advice for school leavers is:  

“If you've got a trade, you'll never be out of work. If you've got an apprenticeship, you can't chop and change. I knew people who were getting more money than me but if I hadn't have signed up for four years I'd have left 1,000 times and they would have got rid of me, too."