Mrs Williamson by Holly Willoughby

11th April 2014 at 01:00
After years of frustration and rivers of red ink on her work, the unknowingly dyslexic television presenter found an understanding teacher

I am dyslexic, but it wasn't diagnosed until I was 15. At school, all my essays would come back covered with red pen because I was rubbish at spelling. When I opened my exercise books, I'd get that sinking feeling: corrections would be scrawled all over them and they looked such a mess.

But Mrs Williamson, my English teacher at Burgess Hill School for Girls, was sensitive to that. Instead of looking for the mistakes, she would read through the essay and find the story. Then we would talk about the spellings and at the end she would write a list of the words I had got wrong, instead of scribbling all over my work. She believed in me and that gave me a lot of confidence.

Even though I had trouble with spelling, I knew I wasn't thick. I would have been more concerned if my stories had been spelled right but were the dullest things in the world - I had a good imagination and I would always give it a go. Academically, I was in the middle ground. I definitely wasn't the brightest and I wasn't at the bottom. I just bumbled along.

I wouldn't say I was particularly good at English, but Mrs Williamson was so passionate about it that she hooked me in. Her favourite book was To Kill A Mockingbird and reading that with her was an experience in itself. Her enthusiasm was so infectious, it was impossible not to enjoy it.

Her lessons were fun. Just as you thought you were drawing a complete blank, she would do something to make you think. If we were studying Romeo and Juliet, she would allocate each of us a part and have us stand up in the room and shout at each other. It made the text come alive.

She did more than just teach me English. There were times when I would be sitting there on my lunch break and she just knew I was upset about something. She would say, "Come into my office", and she would give me a biscuit and some orange juice. She wouldn't pry - she just knew you needed 10 minutes out. She was insightful, she knew when things weren't right.

I have good memories from school, but that was mainly because I had a strong group of friends that I felt safe with. Back then I was quite timid and shy.

I was never naughty; I don't like getting into trouble even now. However, I do remember a group of us once tried to hide the machine that draws the white lines on the hockey pitch. But we didn't think it through properly: as you wheel it along, a great white line comes out the back of it. Obviously, it didn't take too long to find. It would have been more clever to write something in the grass, but they would have known it was me because it would have been spelled wrong.

I haven't kept in touch with Mrs Williamson or any of the teachers at school. I do recall her fondly, though, and I realise how important teachers are. My son Harry has just started school and he is so happy there. He has a wonderful teacher, so we have struck gold.

Holly Willoughby was speaking to Kate Bohdanowicz. School for Stars: third term at L'Etoile by Holly and Kelly Willoughby is out now, published by Orion Children's Books, pound;4.99

As seen on screen

Holly Willoughby

Born 10 February 1981, Brighton, England

Education Burgess Hill School for Girls; the College of Richard Collyer, Horsham, both in West Sussex

Career Model and television presenter. Currently the co-host of This Morning, Willoughby also presents Surprise Surprise and is a panellist on Celebrity Juice.

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