In other circumstances I might have become a Latin mistress

Portrait by Neil Turner

From the first lesson, Latin was my favourite subject, and Sister Mary Evangelista was a superb teacher. I was a boarder at La Sainte Union Catholic convent in Bath, and Sister Evangelista supervised the senior dormitory and, as well as Latin, taught me religion for the O-level syllabus. She had a tremendous influence on me and even made a huge impact on the girls she never taught. A few years ago, I organised a class reunion at the House of Commons, and almost the first question everyone asked was:

"Is Sister Evangelista here?" Of course she was.

I have kept in touch with her in the intervening years and so has my brother, who is a Church of England vicar in Bristol. (We were brought up as Anglicans). She was intensely interested when I started making a name on the political scene, but whether or not she shares my politics I don't know. I never asked and she never told me.

Although I enjoyed the subject, her teaching contributed to my decision to read Latin at Birmingham University. She was pleased but there was no question of any pressure. I also liked history, ancient history and English, and might have studied any of those, but I decided on Latin. In other circumstances I might have been a Latin mistress; indeed, I considered it. Law was another option. I think I was probably the first girl from the school to go into politics. Having decided on a political career, I went on to read politics and economics at Oxford.

Sister Evangelista was strict. She demanded high standards and insisted they were delivered, so people tended to concentrate in her classes. She kept order by the force of her personality. She was also patient and if you didn't understand something she would go back to basics and start all over again.

She invented funny little rhymes to help you remember things, such as when to use the dative case. And if you were struggling through a translation, she would stop you every so often and invite you to picture the scene rather than just concentrate on the words.

She was a nice person. I remember one occasion when, still hungry after supper, a group of us went and picked apples from the garden of one of the school houses. Sister Evangelista caught us munching them outside on the steps. We thought we were going to get into trouble, but when she found out why we had taken the apples, more were brought to us.

She took us on school trips to Rome. We went around the ruins and had the traditional mass audience with the Pope.

I was a hard worker and very competitive but, like all girls, occasionally got up to mischief. There was a tradition that on St Cecilia's night (St Cecilia is the patron saint of music) a ghost walked, so a few of us dressed up in sheets and went wandering through the convent in the dead of night and played the piano. Unfortunately, we got caught. There were three or four of us in the beginning but only two of us saw the whole thing through and actually walked those dark corridors. The next day in class we were going through the second book of Virgil's Aeneid where Creusa's ghost appears and Sister Evangelista remarked: "There will be a few unhappy ghosts on Saturday when you won't be allowed out."

The school was strict. For instance, we had coverlets on the beds which had to be folded in a certain way, so you had two sharp creases down the centre and a series of sharp creases going across. Everybody else's came out right, mine came out like a rag. This happened every day and I would get into trouble. Eventually I did a swap with a girl called Lucille. I did her Latin homework and she folded my coverlet. We continued this arrangement for my entire school career.

Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe was talking to Pamela Coleman

The story so far

1947 Born in Bath

1969 Reads PPE at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford

1973-75 Worked in marketing, Unilever

1975-87 Senior administrator, University of London

1976-78 Runnymede district councillor

1987 Elected Conservative MP, Maidstone

1990-93 Parliamentary under secretary, DSS

1993 Parliamentary under secretary, Dept of Employment; converts to Catholicism

1994-95 Minister of State, Home Office

1997 Appointed to Standards and Privileges Select Committee

1998-99 Shadow Home Secretary

2000 Publishes first novel, The Clematis Tree

July 2002 Second novel, An Act of Treachery

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