Ian Patterson didn't just influence my work...

5th March 2004 at 00:00
...I went to see all the films he saw and read the books he read. He was devastated to see I'd wasted my talent. Portrait by Sam Friedrich

I had a hard time at school. I was badly bullied and ostracised by the other kids because I was sexually confused and promiscuous, and because I was adopted. But I had several teachers who made life bearable and by my late teens I adored school.

Lawrence Randak at Campie primary school in Musselburgh was in his early twenties and had lived in the United States. He was full of passion, energy and enthusiasm, which we found fascinating and refreshing (we were taught mainly by elderly teachers who were Victorian in their attitudes). Lawrence Randak taught us to play basketball and cooked Chinese food, and offered us an escape from our small Scottish fishing town. I was a lonely, only child and he found me an American penfriend in Boston. I'm still in touch with Lawrence and he comes to see me perform the odd gig.

When I moved on to Musselburgh grammar school (by then a comprehensive), I polarised teachers. They either liked me and encouraged me or - like the domestic science mistress, Mrs Fairclough - they loathed me. I already knew how to cook but Mrs Fairclough consistently gave me poor marks for what I made in class. To test her out, one day I swapped my dish of macaroni cheese with one made by the most popular girl in the class.

She got full marks (for my dish) and I got bad marks (for hers). I challenged the teacher and she hated that. I challenged quite a lot of people while at school. I was only really interested in drawing, writing, reading and sport.

I'd already shown a talent for writing at primary school, where I'd won a prize for an essay entitled "The Day I got my Hair Cut", written from the point of view of a dog, and Alison Reid encouraged me further. After a bad beginning when she would send me out for being disruptive, we became friends and I babysat for her kids at the weekends. I showed Alison all my poems and writing and she helped me and told me what books to read and introduced me to culture. She was in charge of the debating society, which I ran with my mate, Alistair. I won public speaking awards and other extracurricular awards, and in my last year Alistair and I were made head boy and girl.

I was obsessed with the science teacher, Joan Carlisle, who came into my life around the time my father died. She taught biology, anatomy and physiology, which I signed up for because of her. She was about 27, blonde, short and athletic with a big bust, and I was in love with her and followed her around, sent her poems and rang her up at home. She came to my show in Edinburgh recently with her husband and their kids.

Mrs Taylor, who taught drama, was great. She was the first teacher to let us call her by her first name, Judy. She wore smocks and chunky jewellery and was passionate and volatile, and she had an English accent, which was very unusual. We didn't often meet English people in Musselburgh.

But the teacher who was really special was Ian Patterson, who taught art.

He was a father figure to me after my father died. He was one of those teachers you didn't cross the line with and he commanded respect, even from some of the harder characters. He had a walrus moustache, and was very tall and balding, with long, dark hair. Ian Patterson didn't just influence my work: I went to see all the films he saw and read the books he read. I was brilliant at art and he got me into art school, but I mucked it all up by not getting enough Highers to take up my conditional place. Ian Patterson was devastated because he saw that I had wasted my talent, and I subsequently wasted my life for the next 15 years in drink. I let him down and I let myself down, and, sadly, he's dead now. Strangely, he died in the location of his favourite film, Death in Venice.

Comedian and author Rhona Cameron was talking to Pamela Coleman


1965 Born in Dundee

1970-77 Attends Tollcross primary school then Campie primary, Musselburgh

1977-83 Musselburgh grammar school

1992 Wins Channel 4's So You Think You're Funny? award at the Edinburgh festival

2000 Writes and stars in BBC sitcom, Rhona

2002 Appears in ITV's I'm a CelebrityI Get Me Out of Here! and The Vagina Monologues at New Ambassadors Theatre, London. Hosts ITV gameshow, Russian Roulette

2003 Stand-up tour of Britain. Publication of first book, the autobiographical 1979: a big year in a small town (Ebury Press)

March 8 2004 Stars in celebrity performance of The Vagina Monologues in aid of Until the Violence Stops charity at Criterion Theatre, London (020 7839 4489)

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