My best teacher

Martyn Palmer

Fantastic teachers helped the former Miss World in many ways - but one had a real influence on the Bollywood star.

People sometimes assu-me that I was educated outside India and I am always happy to correct that assumption - I'm Indian-born, brought up and educated. And I hope that I'm a good representative of what today's modern, urban India is all about.

I was lucky enough to have been taught by some fantastic teachers while I was growing up in Bombay. All helped me in different ways, but the one who had the most influence on my life was Mrs Sharbari Dhole who taught English literature when I was 17 and studying at Jai Hind College.

I was hoping to go on to university to study architecture, and the irony is that Mrs Dhole was the woman who first introduced me to modelling, which in turn led me to represent India in the Miss World contest, and from there to become an actress.

When I was at school I was asked about modelling many times and I always said no. I was sceptical because I kept thinking, "If I do this, I won't be a normal student any more."

If you are a student and a model people are likely to judge you and question your capabilities and your credibility. I was always a good student, so it mattered to me that I should be taken seriously at what I did.

Mrs Dhole was always compassionate and caring. We used to have long discussions about school and what I wanted to do with my life - she was always encouraging, telling me to follow my dreams, whatever they were.

She was so easy to talk to. I was aware that she also did some fashion journalism now and again, and she approached me one day to ask if I would do a photographic shoot to accompany a piece she was writing for a magazine in India. She also confided to me that she was suffering from cancer. I was completely shocked. I had no idea because she had such a positive spirit and an incredible manner.

Did that influence me to take part in the photo shoot? I think it might have because I liked her and wanted to help her, but it was still my decision.

I went along and enjoyed doing it and that was, technically, my first modelling assignment. I didn't accept any others for a couple of years, until I was 19. But because I'd done it with Mrs Dhole it had broken the barrier in a way. When I started modelling it led to pageants and, eventually, to Miss World. It's not the Olympics, but I thought it was an incredible opportunity to represent my country.

Mrs Dhole was suffering from bone marrow cancer and died about a year and a half after my photo shoot with her. I was very upset because she was a fantastic professor and a good woman who played a big part in my life.

Aishwarya Rai, 33, was runner-up in the Miss India contest before being crowned Miss World in 1994. She has starred in more than 40 Bollywood films and more recently Western movies, including Bride Prejudice and The Mistress of Spices. Her latest film, Provoked, will be released in the UK on February 23. She was talking to Martyn Palmer

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