What sort of kid was I? Let me think. I rarely got in trouble but that was because I was rarely caught! “Aston needs to fulfil his potential” – that’s what it said on every report card, you know? But not in sports and drama. Never in those two.
I had two fantastic teachers and it’s impossible to pick between them. You know in secondary school when you have to pick your options before GCSEs? At my place – Jack Hunt School in Peterborough – you were only really allowed to pick between PE or drama, you couldn’t do both. But they were the two subjects I excelled at. And I had both teachers fighting my corner to allow me to study both, so I’ve got to fight their respective corners now, and pick them both.
Mr Game was my sports teacher and Miss Cliff had me covered on drama. Being made to choose between those two subjects was absolutely the hardest bit about my school life. I was thrilled to be allowed to study both and I don’t really know what happened behind the scenes to make it so. I remember my parents went in for parents' evening and they had a chat with both of those guys and my head of year and came back and told me that these teachers had made it happen. How cool is that?
Let’s start with Miss Cliff. I mean, she got me a kids' TV agent for crying out loud, and I managed to start getting extras work on BBC because of it. Miss Cliff really wanted to push me. She was the key to getting me into entertainment as a whole, she 100 per cent contributed to what I do now. She could see that I loved performing and she saw first, before anyone, that I had a talent for it. Hopefully I’ve proved her right.
She played a massive hand in me going in this direction. I think at school, and after actually, lots of kids don’t know what they want to do, and that is no bad thing. But I knew what I wanted to do and that was down to her. She instilled in me a belief that I could do it.
I was a loud and confident kid, something that maybe doesn’t sit too comfortably with some teachers, but Miss Cliff knew how to direct that confidence. How to harness it, I guess. A great role model.
I think maybe her main skill was constructive criticism. “This, this and this is great, Aston. But this needs work.” Her communication was superb. She broke down what she was trying to explain – nailed what it was I needed to work on so that it was crystal clear but without ever damaging that confidence. It was a really healthy balance and one that I think helps you get ready for the real world. It’s a skill I think we all need.
And Mr Game was the same. I had a natural ability with sport, it came easily to me and I loved it. And Mr Game was a really cool teacher. Nobody ever messed about in his lessons because he had such a good demeanour. Just like Miss Cliff he had an ability to encourage and to push without pushing too hard. So much so that sport could have been a career path too had it not been for injury. I think it’s interesting for a kid to have two career paths alive and kicking at one time, and both of them being steered by a teacher. Particularly for a kid who perhaps wasn’t so engaged with history or maths or whatever. You know, not “fulfilling my potential”.
I don’t think teachers get anywhere near the sort of credit they deserve. I, not too long ago, became a father and that’s sort of crystallised what a big deal it is to entrust elements of your child’s future to teachers. You drop the kids off at school and you trust these people to nurture them, and they do! How do we fail to give them the credit they deserve when they are delivering on such key part of a kid’s upbringing? They help us mould our kids' futures. That’s crazy, right? A high pressure job. I’m keen to pass on what I know – I think that’s human nature – but I don’t have the ability to do it to the level of those two teachers. They went above and beyond. I think most teachers do.
Born: 13 February 1988, Peterborough
Education: Jack Hunt School, Netherton, Peterborough
Career: Best known for being a member of the British boy band JLS who were the runners-up to Alexandra Burke in the fifth series of The X Factor.