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Mark Thompson

The people's astronomer and co-host of Stargazing LIVE recalls the man who turned him from shy to confident

The people's astronomer and co-host of Stargazing LIVE recalls the man who turned him from shy to confident

As a youngster I was hanging off my mum's clothes; if someone talked to me I would try to hide. I am one of four siblings and I was both the youngest and the shyest. But a teacher called Mr Frost, whom I had in the latter stages of primary, somehow managed to get me out of myself and turn me into the most confident of the four.

A turning point, I think, was a school holiday to Wells-next-the-Sea, which is the top end of Norfolk. I wasn't keen because it meant time away from my family, which was a big deal.

I have a recollection of going away on this week's holiday and getting upset. I did not want to be there and I wanted to go home. Mr Frost took me to one side and set about getting me really involved with the other children. He did not refuse to let me go back and he got in touch with my parents to let them know there was a problem, but he didn't let me speak to them, which was the right thing to do.

He used to make a great effort to engage with the children and he made sure you were involved by doing that. He made me forget about being shy and focus more on what I was actually doing.

That time away from my family forced me to come out of myself. My parents were not there to protect me, I had to stand on my own two feet, and he was there to help me do that. With previous teachers I was able to melt into the background; they just let me sit in a corner and get on with being quiet.

At that age I would have guessed he was about 50, and from my memory of him I'd say that would be about right. He was a very firm but fair teacher who was great with children and clearly loved them.

He was also one of the stricter teachers in the school and, as a result, no one messed around. If you are a shy kid, there's nothing worse than an unruly class and I do have vague recollection of classes like that, where I felt really uncomfortable. He was a combination of that strictness, plus a little bit of humour.

Now, I can stand up and do live TV in front of millions of people and have lectured at the Royal Institute, which is generally regarded to be the primary lecture location for science. I went through a complete 180-degree swing and I don't know if I would be that person if it weren't for the effort he put in.

Generally I was quite a studious character at school and did the work that was asked of me. I was the sort of child teachers like to have, because if you ask them to do something they do it.

After school I went straight out into the big wide world of work. I think because I had older siblings - my brothers were seven or eight years older than me - and they were working, it just seemed the right thing to do. I started to do an Open University degree in astrophysics when I was 23 or 24, but two years in, I discovered flying lessons and got my pilot's licence instead.

Fresh from co-hosting Stargazing LIVE with Professor Brian Cox, Mark Thompson, aka "the people's astronomer" and author of A Down to Earth Guide to the Cosmos, has been delivering an accessible guide to the beauties of the night sky at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival. The festival runs until 7 April. He was talking to Emma Seith.


Born - Norwich, 1973

Education - Thorpe St William's Primary; Thorpe St Andrew Secondary, both Norwich

Career - TV astronomer and presenter.

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