Ben Fogle

1st June 2007 at 01:00
Giggling in the wings with Emilia Fox during a school play was the only time this reality star cum TV presenter was told off by his headmaster

My parents sent me to the Lycee Francais Charles de Gaulle in London for a primary school. They wanted me to be bilingual, but I struggled learning another language and failed my common entrance exams. For a secondary, I was sent at first to North Bridge House in Regent's Park, but that didn't suit me either.

Growing desperate, my parents decided I should go to Bryanston - a boarding school in Dorset. They liked the philosophy of the school, which tailored the timetable to each pupil's interests and encouraged them to find their own path and identity.

I hated it at first. I came really close to leaving in my first term and every time I spoke to my parents on the phone, I had my mother in tears. I was acting really spoiled, but I didn't like being away from home. My house master, a former Olympic hockey player, talked to me about it a lot and eventually persuaded me that Bryanston had something to give me.

Within two terms I came to love it and I'm a big fan of boarding schools now. It didn't take much to change my mind when I gave it a chance - strangers became friends and teachers became familiar faces.

Geography was the lesson I always looked forward to most. It was a form of escapism. It could be bleak midwinter outside but inside you were learning about African farming methods or the Great Lakes. No other lesson had that excitement.

Tom Wheare, the headmaster, was my favourite teacher. He was a remarkable man, really hands-on with everything he did. I was always a goody two shoes at school so I was never sent to see him for the wrong reasons, but I did struggle academically and he was always positive with me.

My abiding image is seeing him walking around with a little bit of a belly, looking scruffy with his shirt-tail hanging out. He was a little eccentric.

He could be stern when he needed to, but he knew everybody by name. He made a real effort - he wasn't a distant figure like some of my friends'

headmasters. He made it his mission to meet everyone often.

He didn't take us for any classes, but I got to know him well from the plays he directed. I went through a stage of wanting to be an actor, which I still do ultimately, and Mr Wheare was keen on the arts so he decided to personally direct a number of plays. There aren't many heads that do that, it seems to me.

I vividly remember being in Noel Coward's Hay Fever with Emilia Fox. We knew each other quite well before school through our parents (my mother was an actress) and I remember Mr Wheare having to reprimand us for laughing and giggling in the wings during rehearsals. That was the first and last time the headmaster ever told me off. He took it all very seriously.

He was an insightful director and I was impressed with him. His style was to let you discover your own character, which is what the whole school was about anyway, but it seemed to me he embodied the philosophy better than any other member of staff.

Straight after I was on TV in Castaway, he invited me back to the school to meet everyone. He was charming and I would like to see him again one day. I went back to the school recently to give a talk, but he wasn't there - he left a year ago after 25 years. There's no doubt in my mind he ran a successful school and made it what it is today Ben Fogle has built a career as a TV presenter after appearing in the BBC reality show Castaway in 2000. His television credits include Countryfile, Animal Park, One Man and His Dog, Holiday, and he is about to appear on Extreme Dreams, the BBC's new adventure series. He was talking to Mark Anstead

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