My best teacher

Hilary Wilce

Roald taught me so much. He taught me to adore wine and music, and to enjoy the simple things in life - digging a new potato out of the garden, then cooking and eating it.

I went to boarding school when I was six-and-three-quarters, to St George's Convent in Kent. I was so small I had to have my uniform made for me. But I wanted to go. My older sister was there and I thought it sounded fun. Only it wasn't. It was there that I met my first Trunchbull (the horrible teacher in Roald Dahl's biggest-selling children's book, Matilda). She was one of the nuns. I was fairly naughty, and I probably wasn't paying attention, so she pulled me out and stood me on a stool and said I had to sing "Cherry Ripe". When I wouldn't, she pulled me by my pigtails, just like Amanda in Matilda, off the stool, and swung me out of the science room. I fell down a deep concrete step and hurt myself quite badly.

Then I went to St Leonards Mayfield, which I loved. It was on a bleak hill above Hastings. I was not a good student and was known as the illiterate one in my family - there was a great deal of laughter when I married Roald. What I really loved was creating things. The art department was my passion, and that was where my Miss Honey (the nice teacher in Matilda) came in.

She was the most amazing nun called Mother Ignatius, and she came into my life late one night when I'd been sent out of the dorm for speaking. I'd been standing in the corridor for an hour and this nun came sailing down the corridor and said: "What are you doing out here." I told her it was my penance. And I said: "I don't understand what's so bad about talking." She said: "I have to agree with you. It is very difficult. But life is like a tapestry. You only see the back of it, but God sees the front."

One day it was announced we were going to have appreciation of art classes, so I signed up. It was Mother Ignatius and she did this incredible thing of putting slides up on the screen of, for instance, two teacups. One would be a beautiful, bone china, Dresden teacup and the other would be a rather unpleasant lumpy number, and we would have to write our comments about which we preferred and why. This went through buildings, paintings, fashion, everything. It opened my eyes to another world.

It also followed on from what my father always said - that the greatest gift you can have in life is observation.

After school, I did a secretarial course, which I failed, then I worked at Harper's Bazaar on the fashion side, then I got married for the first time and had my three children. After that, I joined a friend doing set and costume design for TV commercials - learning on the job.

Later I went to City and Guilds London Art School, did a carving and gilding course and started a company called Carvers and Gilders. Then Roald and I married (she had divorced Charles Crosland in 1971) and Itook on my third career, basically looking after him and the extended family. After he died, I set up the Roald Dahl Foundation because Roald would have been a doctor if he could. He loved the world of medicine.

Roald taught me so much. He taught me to adore wine and music, and to enjoy the simple things in life - digging a new potato out of the garden, then cooking and eating it. But he didn't care whether any of his children went to university or not. I'm very politically incorrect like that, too, because I say there are many, many children who do not benefit from passing exams and going to college, and who would get far more out of just getting on with it.

Chairman of the Roald Dahl Foundation Felicity Dahl was talking to Hilary Wilce.


1938 Born in Llandaff, Wales (where Roald Dahl was also born)

1944 Attends St George's Convent, Kent

1949 Attends St Leonards Mayfield school, East Sussex

1959 Marries her first husband, Charles Crosland

1960-63 Their three daughters are born

1971 Divorces Charles Crosland

1983 Marries Roald Dahl

1991 Sets up Roald Dahl Foundation to help in the fields of literacy, neurology and haematology; commissions new classical orchestral pieces for children based on Roald Dahl's work

2000 Sets up official Roald Dahl website at

2001 Relaunching of Dahl titles by Puffin; works to set up the Roald Dahl Museum and Literary Centre in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

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Hilary Wilce

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