My best teacher

1st August 2003 at 01:00
I was born in New Zealand and came to the UK with my mum and dad when I was three months old. We lived in south-east London and my parents did charity and social work. I went to Shepherd's primary school in Brockley until I was 11, but my parents were dissatisfied with the next step of education in the neighbourhood so they set up their own private school, Alpha community school, in Peckham.

They thought kids wouldn't receive the attention they needed in other schools because they'd be in classes of 40. So they found excellent teachers and got all their friends' kids to go. If you can get a bunch of people together, and get the school fees from their parents, why not?

Alpha started in Sue Hermo's house; she used to teach maths to me and three others. Sue was incredible. We got toffees if we behaved ourselves.

Eventually we moved into a community hall and then to an old church hall in Peckham with three rooms. There were four teachers covering all the subjects and 15 to 20 pupils, so there were small classes and individual attention.

My best teacher was Frances Piercy. She graduated with honours from Cambridge and came to teach at Alpha. She was about 24, with a massive smile, very jolly, bouncy and chummy, with a lisp. Frances ignited English for me. She was a raging flame and I loved her vocabulary experiments.

She'd pick out literary kids' novels that captured my life - Swallows and Amazons, The Pirates in the Deep Green Sea - they were brilliant.

She used to read me George MacDonald, all the Narnia stuff, and Tolkien.

She read them with crazy voices and accents - it was hilarious. She used to make up her own board games and get us writing stories and drawing. She spent as much time preparing for the next lesson as she did teaching it.

I am a bit dyslexic, but I've read a massive amount - about 300 books in the past five years.

By the time I was 15 I'd read the entire science fiction and fantasy section of the library. I was hyperactive as a kid, although I actually was desperate to behave. I don't know how people coped with it, but Frances was a genius. I discussed everything with her - she was a friend and mentor and she helped me with every subject. There are probably few greater influences than Frances. She had a gift that set me free to discover a voice and find the emotional closure to write songs. People from all over the world have said: "You've written exactly what I'm feeling, exactly what I'm going through now. How did you know?" And I say: "Thank you Frances, thank you so much."

I spent three years at Alpha from the age of 12, although I had a lot of education at home as well. It was the happiest school I've ever seen. We'd have time at the end of every day when we'd sit in a circle and think. If we'd done anything to hurt other people in the class, we'd say sorry. We were taught to encourage each other and think in a positive way. A bit hippyish, but modern and practical.

We all had music lessons. I learned the guitar and keyboard, but never learned to read music. I'd wanted to be a songwriter since I was nine and had a band with my two younger sisters. We played at Mum's counselling seminars and toured European festivals.

I did GCSEs at Lewisham College and took A-levels in history, computer studies and maths. I should have done English literature and a degree in English, but I'm too busy now. Maybe I will when I'm 40. For the moment I want to keep making music, and through it inspire and motivate people.

After college I did freelance web design and worked at The TES for two months - that's when I wrote Gotta Get Thru This, walking across Tower Bridge after work.

Singersongwriter Daniel Bedingfield was talking to Judy Parkinson


1979 Born in Auckland, New Zealand

1980 Moves to London

1984 Shepherd's primary, Brockley

1991 Alpha community school, Peckham

1995 Lewisham college

1998 Freelance web designer

2001 First single, "Gotta Get Thru This", debuts at number one

2002 Nominated for Brit, Grammy and MOBO awards; first album "Gotta Get Thru This" sells 750,000 in the UK and 500,000 in the United States

December 2002 Third single, "If You're Not The One", enters the charts at number one

April 2003 Fourth single, "I Can't Read You", enters the charts at number six

July 2003 Fifth single, "Never Gonna Leave Your Side", released

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