My best teacher

24th January 2003 at 00:00
I went to a school called Orange Hill in Edgware, north London. I just got on with it. I was very quiet and I just blended into the background. I was good at exams and academically OK, but I just wanted to get out of there. I couldn't wait to get home every day.

I was good at maths and sciences but my favourite subject was history and a lot of that was down to my teacher, Dr Wheaton. He was an amazing character and was the one teacher who really stood out.

Dr Wheaton was a bit of a cult hero at school - a lot of people had incredible respect for him. Orange Hill was a comprehensive, but it was an ex-grammar and he was one of the ex-grammar bits. He used to walk around in a cap kand gown. This made him stand out from everybody else and made you think he was really strict, but he wasn't - he was firm but fair. He had a little goatee beard, hair down to his shoulders and a wicked sense of humour.

He was an absolutely awesome teacher and I think most people who were taught by him would agree. He had taught my brother, who had been a good student of his, so he knew me as the younger Pankhurst and I did quite well at O-level. I wanted to do maths at university so I had to do pure and applied maths and physics A-levels, but I also took history. After about a year and a half I was struggling with my physics and, because I needed it to get into university, I had to drop history.

I remember going along to tell him I was dropping out and he was gutted. He helped get my brother into university, and my mum and dad invited him round for dinner to thank him. It was a bit weird having your teacher round but he was easy to talk to.

He was a top bloke. He had a really good way of teaching history and making it fun. He had a thing for French and used to come out with lavish quotes of things Louis XIV had said. I remember writing an essay on the French revolution, which I filled with French phrases just to please him. I got an A-plus - the only time I got one. At the bottom he wrote tr s bon.

I still remember things like crop rotation and Bismarck. I got into music when I was at school, and me and my brother actually formed a joke band named after one of my essays called Bismarck and the Constitutional Crisis.

We've still got the tapes somewhere. One track was called "The Schleswig-Holstein problem".

I had a PE teacher called Mr Scott, who was also my form teacher. He was a good teacher but I have one thing to blame on him - he was responsible for nicknaming me Emily. No one had ever picked up on that and I thought I had got away with it until in the middle of a football game he started shouting: "Come on Emily, get your arse in gear."

I liked my geography teacher, too, but Dr Wheaton was the best teacher by far. His first name was John, but you could never call him John Wheaton. He was always Doc Wheaton.

It's ironic that I started the Friends Reunited website. I didn't particularly enjoy my school days and I had no interest in tracking anyone down from school. I was a bit like everybody else: I wanted to know what they were doing now but I didn't want to find anybody.

The website was my wife Julie's idea. I didn't think it would work but I hadn't picked up on the nosiness factor. I became a user and fan of it myself. I have met up with my best friend from primary school, and I have had a reunion with about eight secondary school friends, when we met up for a few beers and a curry. I'm supposed to be organising a big reunion. I'm going to track Doc Wheaton down and get him to come along.

ICT specialist and Friends Reunited founder. Steve Pankhurst was talking to Harvey McGavin

The story so far

1964 Born Kingsbury, north London

1969 Colindale junior mixed infants

1975 Orange Hill comprehensive

1982 Takes maths degree at Imperial College London

1985 Goes to work for GEC Avionics

1993 Forms IT consultancy with friend Jason Porter

2000 Starts Friends Reunited

2001 Servers crash after DJ Steve Wright makes it his internet site of the day. The site's popularity peaks at 10 million hits and 30,000 new registrations a day

2002 Versions launched in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands

2003 Announces plans to sell the site

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