Matt Di Angelo

16th November 2007 at 00:00
The EastEnders and Strictly Come Dancing star failed his audition for theatre school, but got a scholarship after one teacher spotted his potential.Jackie Stoker was an amazing teacher. She demanded 100 per cent effort, and she got it. I was in awe of her - but inspired. Until I met Jackie, I'd been a reluctant pupil throughout my school career. Trent Church of England Primary School in Cockfosters, London, was OK but I was dyslexic and although I could read well, I couldn't spell and I still can't write very well. I had a lot of help from Mr Elgar, the headmaster.

I wasn't academic or sporty. The only things I enjoyed at school were reading, chess and drama, but when I moved on to Southgate Secondary, also in Cockfosters, the drama teacher thought I was useless and never picked me for any of the school productions.

I felt insecure and that led me to be a bit sarcastic and even arrogant. I left after a year and went to the Sylvia Young Theatre School, which was where I met Jackie Stoker and my education really took off. I failed the audition, but luckily Sylvia said she saw something in me and gave me a scholarship.

Jackie taught drama - and still does. She is a small lady with short spiky hair, very well dressed and with a beautiful speaking voice. She has a very hands-on approach. If you weren't pronouncing a word properly she would put her hand in your mouth and position your tongue so you spoke correctly. It worked every time.

We all respected her. It was respect verging on fear, which is how I think good teaching should be. I never thought I'd be able to learn two A4 pages by heart but I did because Jackie said: "If you want to be in this business you have to be able to learn your lines". She motivated us all to such a degree that we all did well. I got 98 out of 100 in exams and won prizes.

I had been a child model and had appeared in a few commercials from the age of nine, but when I arrived at theatre school I was tall and fat with dreadful acne and long greasy hair. I was a bit chippy. I wanted to act, but I didn't want to learn to dance or sing. I felt embarrassed about wearing a spandex suit in front of all those lovely young girls, so often went missing from dancing lessons. I didn't even see eye to eye with all the drama teachers.

But Jackie was brilliant. She'd be at school at 8am and stay until 6 or 7pm. She was totally dedicated to her job. I always did my best for her and she returned that. School finished at 4pm, but if I wanted to go on she'd say: "Phone your mum and stay behind with me and keep working." She and my mother became great friends.

After I left school, I went to Jackie's home for private lessons because I felt I still had a lot to learn. I still see her from time to time. I called into the school the other day and took her a big bunch of flowers to say thank you for all she has done for me.

She's amused to see me competing in Strictly Come Dancing. Flavia, my teacher on the show, has quite a different technique from Jackie. She's very patient and, if I can't do something, she will ignore it. Jackie would come at me with all guns blazing.

Matt Di Angelo, 20, has played Deano Wicks in EastEnders for the past two years. He is competing in BBC1's Strictly Come Dancing show on Saturday evenings. He was talking to Pamela Coleman.

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