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Mr Morris and Mr Elliott by Andy Bell

The Erasure singer was painfully shy until two teachers encouraged him to unleash his inner show-off

The Erasure singer was painfully shy until two teachers encouraged him to unleash his inner show-off

Two teachers had an influence on me - one in my early years and another in my teenage life.

The first was Mr Morris, who was the choirmaster at Dogsthorpe Infants School in Peterborough. I was a very shy child, but when I was about 7 or 8 he coaxed me out of my shell and asked me to sing a solo at the school choir's Christmas concert. I remember it well: twiddling with my shorts, singing Once in Royal David's City and looking either down at the floor or at the clock on the back wall of the assembly hall.

Mr Morris was kindly and sweet, and by spotting my singing ability he instilled a confidence in me at an early age. I was painfully shy, but when I was in the choir I became something of a show-off.

A few Christmases later, our choir was part of a competition. We thought our slow, plodding version of Little Donkey was really good, but we did badly because it wasn't uptempo enough. We were devastated. It was an early lesson in disappointment that would prepare me for the music business.

My parents were over the moon when I passed my 11-plus exam and got into The King's School, a posh boys' boarding school with close links to Peterborough Cathedral and a great sense of history. I was one of only two boys there who came from council estates.

I was fairly bright but I didn't have any discipline - I would do my homework if I felt like it - and fancied myself as a bit of a rebel. In my early teens, I was into Blondie and Siouxsie and the Banshees. As soon as I saw Debbie Harry's bleached hair, I bought some bleach. That was OK as I was blond, but when I dyed it brown I got sent home.

Mr Elliott was deputy master of the boarding house. I was a day boy but I loved visiting the boarding house because I didn't want to go home. It wasn't that I felt unwelcome there, but I was the eldest of six so there was an awful lot of commotion going on.

Mr Elliott would take me in and give me a cup of tea. He was a good listener - years later, he said I told him then that I wanted to be a famous singer. I didn't confide in him about my sexuality, although I was struggling with it at the time. I remember I had an affair with one of my friends, and we felt ashamed about it and fell out.

Even though I was falling behind with my homework, Mr Elliott had patience with me, perhaps because he was the German teacher and that was my best subject. He organised an exchange trip to Germany and the school paid for me, as my family couldn't afford it.

I got five O levels, just scraping maths and religious education. The school bent over backwards to keep me in the sixth form but my heart wasn't in it - I stayed for about a year and a half. There was no way I was going to pass my A levels, so I left. A short while later I moved to London, and about a year after that I met Vince (Clarke) and formed Erasure - it was all very fast.

I contacted the school recently and Mr Elliott is still there: he's deputy headteacher now. I was pleased to hear that he remembered me and had followed my career. He also remembered my nickname: Dinger.

Andy Bell was talking to Kate Bohdanowicz. He is a supporter of the Stroke Association, which is highlighting the challenges faced by people who have aphasia. For more information, visit Erasure's new album, Snow Globe, is out now


Andy Bell

Born: 25 April 1964, Peterborough, England

Education: Dogsthorpe Infants School; The King's School, Peterborough

Career: Singer in dance-pop duo Erasure; solo artist.

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