Deborah Meaden

23rd November 2007 at 00:00
This Dragons' Den star found inspiration in strong, robust female teachers.Miss Jefferies was a bit of an ogre. To me, at seven, she seemed 10ft tall. She wasn't particularly attractive, nor was she soft. She certainly wasn't a cuddly mother figure. But she was confident and fair and she helped me to settle at boarding school (The Hall School in Wincanton, Somerset). I was terribly unhappy about being sent away from home so early. At the time I thought my parents didn't love me; now as a grown up I see it was a good option since they were working.

Miss Jefferies taught maths and history. I've never been brilliant at anything academic because it didn't engage me, but I was comfortable with maths. I had a little stall selling flowers from the garden at the age of seven and in the school holidays helped my parents count money from the tills in their leisure business for as long as I can remember, so I was good at adding up.

We all behaved ourselves when Miss Jefferies was around. We weren't scared of her, but we were very respectful. When you did a good job she'd say: "Well done" and when you did something badly, she'd say: "You need to go away and do better" and explain how you could improve. I liked that. Fairness has always been really, really important to me.

Lessons with Miss Jefferies were also fun. I remember her spreading out a pack of cards and we had to pick two. The numbers we had chosen were the times table we had to recite. Her history lessons were also interactive. We worked towards an end of term play, which brought the subject alive. One year we re-enacted the Roundheads and the Cavaliers and I can remember being disappointed at not being chosen to be a Cavalier because I wanted to have long curly hair. I enjoyed performing. I was never a shy, retiring child, I always had plenty of confidence and was pretty outgoing and gregarious - and noisy. If lessons didn't interest me I could be disruptive.

My other favourite teacher was Miss Chisholm, who taught English literature and English language at Godolphin School in Salisbury. She was also a very fair woman. She walked with a limp - legend had it that was because she had very bad verrucas. She wasn't attractive, but she had a very engaging personality.

Although I loved the subject, I didn't get great marks. Recently my father looked out my old school reports and plonked them on my desk. Miss Chisholm had written: "Deborah answers intelligently in class, plans her work carefully and her work has been excellent." By contrast, the woman who taught divinity - which I couldn't get the point of at all - remarked: "Deborah works with enthusiasm, but needs to be calmer and more methodical." People who watch Dragons' Den may be surprised to learn that my housemistress described me as: "Friendly with a happy personality."

If a teacher was not strong enough to control me I could be a nightmare. I played up the Latin mistress, who was a gentle soul, and was sent to Miss Frazer, the headmistress, who told me not to mistake kindness for weakness. I've never forgotten that advice. Reading those old school reports, I see myself as a schoolgirl very much as a young version of the person I am now. The teachers who inspired me were strong, robust women who said what they meant.

Deborah Meaden, 47, is on the panel of the BBC's Dragons' Den. She presented the Teaching Award for Enterprise at the 2007 Teaching Awards. Dragons' Den - Success from Pitch to Profit by Deborah Meaden et al has just been published by Collins. She was talking to Pamela Coleman.

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