My best teacher

17th January 2003 at 00:00
I went to St Joseph's convent in Reading when I was eight. The nuns were pretty cool but I came from a different background to most of the girls, which led to a few weird situations. I was a weekly boarder and I remember coming back from a weekend at my father's commune. He'd been holding life drawing classes and I thought it was rather fun to draw naked ladies. That didn't go down well.

Both my parents were teachers, and they took me to art galleries. We went to Florence and I came back in love with Botticelli's Birth Of Venus. I spent weeks copying it. More naked ladies. They were horrified. Another time my father took me to see the birth of a calf. They weren't happy when I wrote about that either.

But I learned their ways and it got better when I went to the higher school. I even became a Catholic, although it wasn't a religious thing. I loved my teachers and I did it to please them, more than anything else.

I did religious studies with the headmistress, Sister Mary Margaret, and if I'd gone to university I might have studied comparative religion, although that probably wasn't what she had in mind. Looking back, I think she was scared for me because I was so pretty. She knew it would get me into trouble and she wanted me to be a nun to spare me from that.

There were two teachers I particularly adored, neither of them nuns. Mrs Simpson was my English teacher. I think she recognised I was someone who needed to be made to feel special. I loved doing work for her because she was always appreciative.

I also loved my French teacher, Madame Currie. She was Jewish and I think she had been in the camps. She used to come to our house, and got on well with my Austrian mother. I found at school I could sail through without a lot of effort. But French wasn't like that. I didn't like hard work but she was determined to get me through my O-level. I sat it three times before I passed.

By the time I got my results I was already on a tour bus with the Hollies and all these other groups. I was happy at school until I was discovered, and I fully intended to go back. But by the time the tour finished I was hooked on the pop world. Singing and performing seemed easy and natural; after that I didn't fancy returning to all that hard school work. I've always had a thing about exams and an objection to jumping through hoops. I found it degrading.

The convent was strict but that was what I needed. I was a very well-behaved, innocent and rather nice girl. I didn't really get rebellious until after I left. I was put on a pedestal as an angelic former convent girl and I objected strongly to that.

Once, when I was in despair through drug addiction in 1971, I looked Mrs Simpson up in the Reading phone book and called her. She was speechless, but she realised I was in pain and talked me through as best she could. She didn't have the answer and I remember as I put the phone down thinking: "If Mrs Simpson doesn't know, nobody does." It was an important moment because that was when I knew I had to do it for myself.

I also adored the science teacher, Sister Aidan, although I hated the subject. Years later I was on tour in Ireland and she came to see the show. I completely flipped when I heard she was there. I have this really filthy song, "Why D'Ya Do It", and I did something I've never done before or since: I edited the words so as not to offend her. Then she came backstage and said she'd particularly enjoyed the song with the dirty words. I realised I'd seriously underestimated her.

Actress and singer Marianne Faithfull was talking to Nigel Williamson

THE STORY SO FAR

1946 Born in London

1954-64 St Joseph's Convent, Reading

1964 First top 10 hit with 'As Tears Go By'

1967 Begins acting career in The Three Sisters with Glenda Jackson at London's Royal Court

1968 Stars with Alain Delon in the film Girl On A Motorcycle

1970 Attempts suicide and enters hospital for heroin addiction

1979 Releases acclaimed comeback album, Broken English. Subsequent albums include Dangerous Acquaintances and Strange Weather

2002 Releases latest album, Kissin Time, a collaboration with, among others, Beck, Jarvis Cocker and Blur

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