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News > Life After Hymers > Veronique Bouchet

Veronique Bouchet

Veronique recalls being one of the first few girls to attend Hymers College...

Veronique Bouchet
(at Hymers 1975-1977)

I was born in France, and when I was twelve my family moved to Hull for my father’s work. This was the first of many challenges I had to overcome in my life. Along with the shock of moving to the UK in pre EU days, I discovered the world of school uniforms, ties and berets (I hadn’t actually ever worn one in France) when I went to Hull High School for Girls while my brother went to Hymers College. When I was sixteen my parents thought it would be a good idea to send a shy sixteen year old to Hymers as one of the first girls (only two girls in the year) in an all boy school for A Levels. This was challenging on a number of fronts. I loved music and art but these subjects were not available at Hymers at the time. However all was not lost as when I was eight I had declared an interest in becoming a paediatrician, Hymers had an excellent reputation in sciences and I was assured that I could always catch up on the arts later. I enjoyed biology, but not physics or chemistry, to my father’s despair, as he was a leather chemist. Sports proved to be a bit of a problem for us girls. I gave up on rugby as I kept dropping the ball in the wrong places, and my attempts at cricket ended when I was called to the Headmaster’s office to be told off for walking across something called the green pitch. That left squash, and Jackie and I learnt to leave the squash courts early to avoid the cat calling and whistling that inevitably occurred as we walked back to our common room in our shorts during school break.

I made some great friends and enjoyed school trips and activities such as the photographic society, and Hymers was where I developed my love of theatre. The English teacher Mr. King was keen to stage Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, and wanted to cast me as Katherine. I had strong doubts that a French teenager could ever pull this off. He overcame them and spent many hours translating what seemed like gobbledygook into English and coaching me through the various scenes. It is ironic that the play is about a woman in a man’s world, a taste of things to come. The whole experience was great fun, and well received, the local papers praising my “natural acting” (I chose not to be miffed by this).

When it came to choosing University courses I was encouraged to study medicine, although by then I was drawn to psychology and nursing dramatic ambitions. Another visit to the Headmaster’s office followed, when I was told that all eyes would be on my A Level results. No pressure then…

So a compromise was made and I went to St Bartholomew’s Medical School in London. It had a great reputation, I was drawn to the breadth of art and culture in London, and the fact that most of my interview questions were about what I could bring to the school (they were keen on rugby players and thespians) as opposed to some of the other schools who asked me why I didn’t want to be a nurse.

At Barts I took part in plays and musical activities, as well as the yearly medical review, the Smoker. This made preclinical studies more enjoyable, as this mainly involved rote learning, with exams every 3 months. I did well enough to study for an intercalated BSC, and enjoyed Psychology at UCL.

Clinical studies were much more fun. Although there were more exams, I enjoyed the problem solving aspect of medicine and the patient contact. House jobs were challenging. In those days students were little prepared for dealing with emergencies and situations we had never come across. I persevered with hospital medicine in a number of specialties for five years, working from 80-120 hours a week (for £3.50 an hour after 5pm and on week-ends!). It was stressful, especially when I was on call at night looking after neonates on my own with my consultant a 20-minute drive away. After working 72 hours without sleep one weekend, I crashed the car on the way home and decided there had to be a better way of life.

So I joined the pharmaceutical industry. I moved to Germany, speaking no German, working on the European development of an opioid drug as well as helping to develop the business in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. I experienced the Gorbachev world of one day visas, being followed by KGB men, bugged hotel rooms, and Berlin wall crossings with sniffer dogs under buses. Having to bring back a semi-conscious colleague who had been given a mickey fin from Odessa to Moscow on my own was perhaps too much of an adventure and I thought maybe it was time for a change.

I returned to the UK, working for ICI, first as a Medical Adviser for the Far East and then driving the development of one of the company’s leading drugs in a new indication. This involved international cooperation and travel, as I had to take on a project that had never been done before in the company, a 3000 patient study in 18 countries. I really enjoyed this but wanted to move to the commercial part of the business and decided to study for an MBA. I chose INSEAD as it had a great reputation (and was also renowned for its parties!). Again there were loads of exams and some dry subjects, but I focused on what I enjoyed, entrepreneurship and venture capital, made some wonderful friends and of course took part in the yearly review and joined the a capella group!

INSEAD opened many doors. I discovered the world of investment management, and gained lots of experience in a variety of roles back in the pharmaceutical world, ranging from business development, M&A, company spinouts, corporate and venture strategy; always saying yes to “never done before” projects.After my father died in 2000 I took a career break to help my mother sort out her financial affairs and extended it to travel and go to drama school. I decided to go back to the day job when I realised the wages on offer for a struggling actor would not cover the mortgage or pay for more adventures abroad. I led a double life for a while, writing and producing my own play and doing fringe theatre. I am still on Spotlight and get the odd request to audition for parts where they require someone to speak with a French accent, no success to date as the best accent I can muster sounds like Inspector Clouseau.

In 2011 I left the pharmaceutical industry to start a portfolio career. I wanted more time for myself, and set up my own consultancy. Having sworn never to take any exams ever again I found my self studying for the IOD Diploma in Company Direction. I was invited to be on the Council of Queen Mary University London and to be a trustee of Breast Cancer Now. I became a non-executive director of International Biotechnology Trust, a leading investment trust investing in biotechnology and of the Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst, a world-leading science park with over fourty research organisations.In October 2018 I joined PrecisionLife, an AI enabled precision medicine start-up as their Chief Medical Officer, developing new drugs and diagnostics in complex diseases for which there are few or no effective treatments. After more than 30 years in the healthcare industry, I was named as one of the BioBeat 50 Movers and Shakers in BioBusiness 2019. It just shows it pays to persevere!

I have also reconnected with my love of painting and performing. Recalling Michele Pfeiffer singing "Makin' Whoopee" draped over a piano in the film the Fabulous Baker Boys, I decided to take up Jazz singing. This is proving to be rather more difficult than I thought, requiring lots of lessons and courses with wonderful professional Jazz musicians.

For some reason singing in front of an audience is a lot scarier than acting. Nevertheless I am braving my demons and currently recording a CD of Chansons Françaises (and no, I haven’t got a video including a grand piano planned….yet). I still love travelling, always trying to combine it with scuba diving and the odd sailing adventure.

Looking back, my career looks well planned, but in reality I always trusted my instincts and chose interesting jobs. It has taken me a while to balance my strengths and desires, but I do not regret the avenues I followed. Hymers helped open the doors to medicine, which gave me a great start in life. I now use all my experience and skills in the exciting world of biotechnology, where I think I will be able to make a difference, and which allows me to continue to explore and develop my artistic side. That’s my version of “work/life balance”!

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