Tom’s formative years were spent in a former farm cottage close to Aberdeen, the UK’s northernmost University city. The sea (with legendarily cold beaches) was a short walk away; mountains were visible from a back garden regularly invaded by sheep; castles and stately homes such as Crathes Castle and Haddo House provided weekend entertainment and cultural life; and trips to Orkney gave a new meaning to prehistory and the environment.
Everything changed when the family moved to Oxford in 1988, in the wake of upheavals in Higher Education. A spur-of-the moment application for a scholarship led to the ten-year old Tom being admitted to the legendary Dragon School – probably the first pupil it had ever received from a Scottish state primary school. Tom survived the transition and quickly established himself as a star pupil with a gift for writing and languages, which he developed further at St Edward’s School.
In 1997 Tom was admitted to Jesus College, Cambridge to study French and German. He was the fifth member of his family to study there (following his grandfather, father, and two uncles); he had been determined to apply for a different College, but was persuaded by his school and by his father’s former tutor who assured him, correctly, that he would not get favoured treatment. Once admitted he did everything possible to break away from family traditions, immersing himself in Film and Critical Theory.
Having failed in his attempt to spend his Modern Languages Year Abroad in French-speaking Polynesia, he opted instead to spend the year in Berlin, working for a publishers known to him through vacation work for OUP dictionaries department. He used the year to travel extensively in Germany and to develop his knowledge of Berlin nightlife.
It was perhaps inevitable that publishing, languages and travel would form his career, and when he finally found a way into Lonely Planet it was a kind of homecoming. He fast established himself as an expert traveller and researcher, an acute and dyspeptic commentator and a supportive colleague.