STUDENTS and guests at Bishop Barrington Academy in Bishop Auckland were treated to an inspirational, and stirring, address yesterday by Dr Fiona Hill, the former White House advisor on Russia.

Dr Hill is living proof that you need not be constrained by your background. From humble coalmining roots, she rose from her desk in Bishop Auckland to sharing a table with Vladimir Putin – and not just any old table, but the infamous long one that during Covid the paranoid president put between himself and his guests. She was also in the room with US presidents George W Bush, Barak Obama and Donald Trump – and not just the room with Obama, as she revealed that she once shared a basketball court with him.

A little luck and having a brilliant mind certainly helps, but hard work and self belief will get the Barrington pupils far, as Dr Hill’s story shows.

Responding to pupils’ questions, she gave a bleak assessment of the war in Ukraine. Her belief is that Putin is aiming to grind us all down. We will be made despondent by soaring prices and growing industrial unrest at home, and by the deaths in Ukraine, and by the looming famine that many African countries face as they were reliant on Ukrainian grain, and by Putin’s growing threats – yesterday, he said his hypersonic nuclear missile able to strike Britain will be ready by the end of the year. And then we will call on our government to give over, to let Russia have Ukraine, just so we have some hope at home.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is going to colour the lives of those Bishop Auckland students for at least the next decade, but if we allow our resolve to weaken, they will be inheriting a much more dangerous world.