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Sharleen Spiteri: my best teacher

A bit of reverse psychology from a sarcastic pseudo-sexist gave the Texas singer the determination to succeed

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A bit of reverse psychology from a sarcastic pseudo-sexist gave the Texas singer the determination to succeed

My parents moved from Glasgow out to Loch Lomond when I was 11 years old, so I only did Primary 7 there and then moved to Vale of Leven Academy. I just didn't fit in at all. I was very quiet at school, believe it or not.

I left after my O-levels; I never did Highers. I got bullied and I could not get out of school fast enough, but some teachers definitely made a big difference in the way that I do a lot of day-to-day things. One of the reasons why I wanted to do this is that I think it is nice for teachers to know that they are making a difference in people's lives.

There are actually two teachers who stood out for me in school, and it's funny because they didn't even teach my favourite subjects. One of them was Mr Gillespie, who taught me maths and arithmetic right through secondary school.

He was a teacher who actually took the time. You know when somebody teaches you how to read a question properly? It is like learning clutch control: suddenly you get it. I remember getting a maths question, reading it and going: "I don't bloody know how to do this." He took the time to say: "Look, break it down, this is how it works. You take that bit, then you take that bit, now work that out with it." Suddenly, it all fell into place and made complete sense.

Mr Gillespie taught me to break problems down into sections, and I think I have definitely carried that through my life. If there is something I don't quite understand, even if it is personal problems or anything that comes up, I sit down and think about it.

My other teacher, Mr Lapsley, who taught me history through first, second and third year, was this little rebellious man who used to seem really aggressive and obnoxious, but quite fabulous at the same time. He used to always say: "Girls are useless at history. They know nothing about history; they can't remember facts."

I don't know if it was reverse psychology, but it definitely worked on me because when we did the exam I thought: "I am going to show you exactly how good a girl can be in history." I remember being about third in my class when my results came in and it was because of him. The amazing thing is that I then got into history.

His sarcasm was hysterical; he used to do everything with humour and sarcasm. He didn't just go through facts and figures; he made it interesting with his funny little anecdotes. I don't know if it was a really good way of teaching that he had figured out, or if that was just him, but it definitely worked for me.

I think Mr Lapsley probably taught me a little bit about myself. Don't tell me I can't do something, because as soon as you say that, I will make sure that I bloody do it. I guess he probably showed me a side of my personality that I never even knew was there. I didn't realise that that was what he was doing at the time, but I see it now.

He never put you down, but I think sometimes the little prod of winding you up in a slightly nice way can sometimes really help someone just dig a bit deeper and find that determination to do something.

I never heard from Mr Gillespie or Mr Lapsley again. I have never been back to my school. I don't even know if they will remember me. But you kind of think that the name Spiteri might have stuck in their heads a bit when they saw it.

Sharleen Spiteri was talking to Julia Belgutay


Born: 7 November 1967 in Glasgow

Education: Vale of Leven Academy

Career: Lead singer of internationally renowned band Texas for more than 20 years. Released two solo albums, the second in 2010.

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