Gregg Wallace

15th April 2011 at 01:00
Amid the tedium of school, the MasterChef presenter found a `well left-of-centre' ally in social studies

I went to the London Nautical School in Blackfriars. It was a grammar school and I don't think they knew how to deal with me. I began to run wild as a teenager and school and education for me just collapsed. I didn't want to be there. I didn't enjoy it and, in the end, they didn't want me there either. I ended up leaving school at 14 or 15. No one came to check up on me to see what I was doing. Ironically, I'm now engaged to a biology teacher.

Although I hated school, I always enjoyed social studies with Mr Evans. I was about 13 and had never met a teacher quite like him. They had all been relatively stuffy before and this guy was very witty. He had led what I thought was an extraordinary life. At one point, he said to me: "Mr Wallace, you don't know what you missed . running through San Francisco putting flowers down soldiers' guns." I just thought he was so cool.

He had real interest in us and in youth culture in general. It was a professional interest, but I think it was also his hobby. He took photos of all the mods and the punks in school.

We always thought he was a bit of a hippy - he had a beard and thick- rimmed glasses. I don't think he got respect from everybody. There was still corporal punishment in my day, but there was no way he would have used it.

I remember he brought in a paper that suggested that children's behaviour was affected by what they ate. This was back in the 1980s and we all laughed at him, saying: "How can that be right? You have a chocolate bar and you start misbehaving?" But he was well ahead of his time.

He lent me a book of political cartoons but said: "Please don't let any teacher know that I lent you this." He was well left of centre and he didn't want people thinking that he was indoctrinating children. I felt very grown up, I have to admit. I just enjoyed his time, and his lessons.

But I was getting into trouble more and more in school. I was taken to the deputy head and he made me turn out my pockets. I had condoms in one of them and he asked what I was doing with them. I said: "I'm having sex with my girlfriend." He looked at me with a smile on his face and said: "OK, you had better have them back". I was being very sensible.

Then there was one incident with a teacher that made me leave the school. He was nothing but an absolute bully. He would slap children and make them cry and hurt them. The man was outrageous.

I think he pushed in front of me in the queue in the dinner hall, but I was stupid enough to say something. He came towards me and I knew what was going to happen, so I put my fists up and said: "Come on, then". He was just livid. It's one thing slapping a boy, but you can't have a stand-up fist fight in the dinner hall. He was absolutely seething and brought me to the deputy head again. I think we agreed that I shouldn't be there.

I got a job in a dry cleaners in Peckham after that. When my parents broke up they both vacated the flat they owned, so I moved in. I would go round to my grandparents for what I now call lunch, but what I previously called dinner.

My mum never had a great interest in my education - I think there were lower expectations back then. Our horizons weren't as broad. I'm a single parent of two and I have a different approach now - I want them to do well and get a good degree, although I don't believe education is the answer to everything.


Born: 1964, Peckham

Education: London Nautical School, Blackfriars

Career: Selling vegetables at Covent Garden; started George Allan's Greengrocer 1989, eventual turnover pound;7.5 million; went into radio and television, including food programmes, singing contest The Two of Us, The Money Programme, history series Turn Back Time: The High Street. Best known for MasterChef

Gregg Wallace is a judge on MasterChef. The new cookbook, MasterChef At Home, is on sale now. He was talking to Meabh Ritchie.

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