My best teacher

21st January 2000 at 00:00
Mrs Pierce was quite funky and she made learning fun. But the real reason I loved her to bits was because she cast me as the lead in the school play.

I didn't get off to a good start at secondary school because on my first day I was hopelessly late. My mum always had a full-time job when I was growing up and I had my own routine. I'd get up, put my heated curling tongs on and listen to Terry Wogan on Radio 2 while making breakfast. Then I'd get my mum up for work, and at about five to nine we'd trundle off to school in her clapped out old Vauxhall Viva. I remember on the first morning walking into this building that seemed so massive and everybody staring at me because I was late.

We lived in a tiny village called Bishop's Waltham about eight miles from Winchester and the school was in Swanmore, which was the next village. Like everyone else, I got into my fair share of trouble, especially with Miss Pearson, the deputy headmistress. She wouldn't let us wear eyeliner, and she stopped me wearing luminous socks, which were the fashion at the time. I never forgave her for that.

Later on she was the one who took my prefect's badge away. It was my friend Clare Butler's birthday and she brought in a cake which she had made with whisky. Someone told on us and we were accused of bringing alcohol into school. I was blamed. My mum told me off, but when she heard that I was the only one who had been punished she marched down to the school and started a big row. Two weeks later I got my badge back. Miss Pearson was probably perfectly nice, but when I look back the memory of her makes me shudder.

There were two teachers at Swanmore secondary school who had a huge influence on me. I knew Rosemary Cross, my music teacher, from the amateur dramatics group in Bishop's Waltham. She was always the guest singer so she was a bit of an icon. I joined the choir because of her. I was desperate to be a pop star, and she held a music competition. I was in a band and we all wore black dustbin liners. I made up a song about ET, which I still sing. Today, I love everything from opera to Abba and I owe that to her.

Mrs Pearce was my nglish teacher. She was quite funky and in her twenties, and she made learning fun. But the real reason I loved her to bits was the school play. We did a production of Dracula Spectacular in the fifth year. Mrs Pearce was casting and directing it, and I auditioned for the lead part of Nadia. I modelled the role on Marilyn Monroe and did the whole audition in an American accent, which was probably really crap. She kept everybody waiting for two days. Then she came into the English class and asked to see me outside and offered me the lead.

I put my heart and soul into it. Mrs Cross did the music for the play and I'd stay behind after school and make her go through the songs again and again just because I loved it all so much. I must have worn her out. On the day of the performance I was so nervous that I can't remember anything about it apart from doing my make-up.

To have a teacher back your dreams like that was fantastic. I've talked to other actresses and they all say they had careers advice telling them they should do something more sensible than acting. I was never told anything like that.

When my parents decided to move to Bournemouth I was devastated, but I've never been back to the school. I hope they read this in the staffroom because I'd love to go back to talk to the kids about acting or something. It wouldn't make me feel I'd arrived, but it would make me feel I was on my way.

Amanda Holden was talking to Nigel Williamson

The story so far

1971: Born in Bishop's Waltham, near Winchester

1989: Attends London's Mountview Theatre School

1994: Lands her first TV part in ITV's In Suspicious Circumstances, followed by the role of stall-holder Carmen in EastEnders

1995: Marries Les Dennis, host of Family Fortunes

1997: Appears in Channel 5 comedy series We Know Where You Live; lands parts in The Bill and Thief Takers for ITV

1998: Plays the feisty Mel alongside Caroline Quentin in BBC1's Kiss Me Kate. Becomes a regular in the BBC2 series Goodness Gracious Me

19992000: Plays English school mistress Miss Titley in Granada's comedy drama series The Grimleys

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