Mr Bromley By Russell Watson

24th July 2015 at 01:00
The UK's bestselling classical artist remembers nothing about this teacher's geography lessons, but the philosophical chats they had while he was washing the man's car are a different story

I left Irlam and Cadishead High School in Manchester with the equivalent of one O-level. Not exactly brilliant, right? Mr Bromley taught me geography, a subject I had absolutely no interest in.

He was a scary character. He actually gave me the cane once. I belted someone relatively hard when I was protecting a friend of mine and wound up in Mr Bromley's office, where I was chastised. He gave me the choice of a cane hanging on the wall or a slipper on a chair. I chose the cane. The slipper was large and looked imposing.

Back then, we lads told each other how to lessen the impact of the cane by slightly bending the palm upon impact, which I did but it still hurt like hell. I got three whacks and towards the end it was really rather painful. I remember walking out and smiling at the slipper - I had chosen unwisely.

You know Charlie Brown's teacher in Peanuts? The one whose voice was just "bwhah-whah-whah-whah"? That's exactly what I heard when Mr Bromley was teaching. He was probably saying something about some rainforest in Brazil and the whole class would be dozing off, right at the point of REM sleep. He'd pick up an atlas the size of a house, lift it above his head and, "BANG!", slam it on his desk. It was quite the wake-up call. And that was Mr Bromley.

The positive element came later in life. When I was 15 I decided to wash cars to make some money. I knocked on door after door, rejection after rejection, until one door swung open and it was Mr Bromley. I offered to wash his car and, unbelievably, he said, "Yes, actually, Russell, that'd be lovely." He went inside, got a bucket of hot water and a sponge and I did the best job I've ever done of washing a car - so good, in fact, that it became a regular job.

After a while of doing this, we got chatting. We talked a lot about life and he ended up getting quite philosophical with me. He'd tell me stuff like: "You take from life what you put in." He'd tell me that when he was my age he'd clowned around a lot and that he regretted it. He suggested I make sure I didn't have the same regrets.

I was surprised to hear Mr Bromley speak so candidly. He said: "When you leave school, you'll look back on this period. And I guarantee in 20 years you'll wish you'd listened in geography."

And I do. I genuinely do - hand on heart. I wish I'd listened in French. I wish I'd listened more in English. I left school with one O-level and ended up in a backstreet factory fitting nuts and bolts for 12 hours a day or night, depending on the shift.

I haven't done too badly, but if I couldn't sing, what would I be doing now? Probably still in that factory. Mr Bromley was absolutely right. I should have listened and I regret not doing it.

My respect for him grew and grew. I did start to listen in geography and I'd spot that atlas being lifted long before the rest of the class, but it was a little too late for my grades. I'd made my bed.

Ten years or so later, I saw Mr Bromley in the street. I told him how I'd left the factory and started singing in working men's clubs. I'd pop round and have a cup of tea from time to time, chat about my music and he'd listen with glee.

Then, not long after that, I heard from someone local that he'd passed away and I remember feeling really quite sad about it. I'd lost a little part of my life.

Russell Watson was talking to Tom Cullen. The singer's Up Close amp; Personal tour runs until 5 December. For more information, visit www.russellwatson.com

A tenor's tale

Russell Watson

Born 24 November 1966

Education Irlam and Cadishead High School, Manchester

Career Now the UK's bestselling classical artist, Russell came to worldwide attention when he duetted with Montserrat Caball at the 1999 Uefa Champions League final. Since then he has performed for the Pope and has twice overcome a life-threatening illness.

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