My best teacher

7th January 2000 at 00:00
I hated it at primary school because I got bullied. My school in east London was the kind of school where you had to be really quiet or in a gang and fighting all the time. It didn't seem to be about learning. My maths teacher was really nice because he knew everything about music. I was never any good at maths but he would get us to talk about music - we both liked Fleetwood Mac. I don't remember much about secondary school except I couldn't wait to leave. I think that's why I liked my acting so much.

When I was eight I started going to Anna Scher's Children's Theatre in Islington. My first impression of Anna was that she looked like a bit of a hippy with long brown hair. She still looks the same. Anna Scher's wasn't like being at school. I remember thinking this is quite different. She was interested in me as a person.

The first time I went, I remember being really nervous; Anna was quite strict. She had a tone and a way of looking at you. We all knew that if you messed about too much she would have you out straight away.

But it wasn't just about drama, it was about values in life. Anna loves people like Martin Luther King and she was always quoting things he'd said. She has travelled a lot, and she was an actress before she was a teacher so she has had a lot of experience.

We used to go after school for an hour and a half and it cost 50p. There were about 30 kids in a class. To start with she would get all the kids to do a warm-up - singing and a bit of dancing. It was so much fun. We would do improvisations where she gives you the first words to say and you have to improvise a whole scene out of it. Then we would have festivals where you had to write a play and do it in the class, and you got marks out of 10. If you got enough marks you would get into the festival of plays at the end of the year.

All the kids wanted to go there. There was a waiting list of about a year when I started but now it's about six years. I went there from the age of eight until I was 23. I was still going after I joined EastEndes when I was 21, even when I was pregnant with my son, Charley. I went for the whole nine months right up until I had him.

Anna felt very strongly about people who didn't turn up, and if it kept on happening she would chuck them out. When I was about 15 I wanted to stop going and some days I would just go and hang out in the park or round the flats where my mates lived, smoking. I was at that stage you go through as a teenager when everything's boring. But we always went back there in the end.

It wasn't just about teaching kids how to act. A lot of the kids would want to go on to do producing or scriptwriting. She couldn't stand the word "famous" or "fame", anything like that; she wouldn't have it. She teaches kids to be down-to-earth, that acting is basically a job and that there are things in life that are more important. She teaches you to be kind, not to take things for granted and to have respect for yourself. All sorts of things.

Quite a few people who went to Anna's became famous. Sid (Owen, who plays Bianca's husband Ricky in EastEnders) used to go too. But a lot of people who have been to Anna's, or other drama clubs, don't act famous or starry. All my friends that have been there see acting as a job. Anna's an amazing woman. She just loves what she does and that's what keeps her going.

Patsy Palmer was talking to Harvey McGavin

THE STORY SO FAR

1972: Born Julie Harris in Bethnal Green, east London, where she still lives. Her stage name is her mother's maiden name

1978: Joins cast of Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat for three years

1980 Starts at Anna Scher's Children's Theatre

1982 First film job in Alan Parker's Pink Floyd: the wall

1992 Son Charley born

1993 Wins role of Bianca Jackson in BBC1's EastEnders

1998 First soap actor to be nominated for Royal Television Society Award.

1999 Leaves EastEnders. Currently interviewing celebrities for OK!TV on ITV. Appears in a new BBC drama series, McReady and Daughter, to be broadcast later this year


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