My best teacher

8th July 2005 at 01:00
Sister Alexis got the best out of us and she and I had a rapport. She would ask: 'Well, Maureen, what do you think?'

It always seemed to be the English teachers I got on with best at school, probably because I was good at English. Sister Alexis was my favourite. I thought she was fabulous. She had a beautiful face and was kind and placid, yet always managed to keep control. She wore a black nun's habit with a wimple and was quite young, probably only about 25.

I was born in Dublin, but the family moved to Blackpool when I was eight because my parents, who had a double act which we later all joined as The Singing Nolans, realised there was more work over here. We had a strict Catholic upbringing and I went with my sisters to St Catherine's secondary modern school on the outskirts of the city. I was a law-abiding, God-fearing child, in awe of all my teachers and not a rebel in any way.

The teachers I warmed to and who got the best out of me were those who were gentle and kind.

Sister Alexis made lessons interesting, not only for me, for everybody. She kept our attention, asked questions and when she was explaining something to us she did it in a humorous way. She got the best out of us and she and I had a rapport. She would ask: "Well, Maureen, what do you think?"

Occasionally she would bring in outsiders to talk to us. I remember one guy coming to the school and putting on David Copperfield and playing all the parts himself. He was amazing.

Another teacher I loved was Mrs Coglan, who taught English and history. She was bubbly and full of beans and made lessons seem exciting. My essays were good, but once I started writing I couldn't stop and sometimes didn't finish them, but I was always top of the class in English.

I was looking at some of my reports recently and I realise we must have been a nightmare to teach, we missed so much of school because we were performing. I don't know how my parents got away with it. I was singing with my sisters from the age of nine, and we were out late at night so were late into school the next morning and I often did my homework on the bus.

My reports said things like: "Shows promise but unless she's here more often she will never make her mark in the subject", and once the headmistress, Sister Mary Parkinson, wrote: "If Maureen is constantly late for and absent from school she will be seriously retarded."

I never did catch up with maths, but my father was a big influence on us all and encouraged us to read widely and to discuss things and he organised general knowledge quizzes in which we all took part.

St Catherine's had a fantastic choir organised by Miss Holden and my sisters, Anne and Denise, were in it. The choir won lots of prizes. I wanted to join, but I was obsessed with netball and in the school team. I was told I couldn't do both and chose netball.

Although I was painfully shy, I also wanted to join in school plays, but we weren't allowed to stay behind after lessons. I was once involved in a satirical show the school put on, though. I wrote a script and read it out and I remember the power of getting laughs.

I left school at 15 so I didn't take any GCSEs. My schooldays weren't the best days of my life, though my best friend is still someone I was at school with and I've kept in touch with Mrs Coglan. She's been to some of our gigs. When we started to get well known on TV, five of us went back to St Catherine's to open a school fete and that was great. I met a couple of the teachers who had frightened the life out of me as a child, but when I met them again they weren't at all scary. I'd love to go back to school and do it all again properly. I'd join in everything, all the school clubs and activities. I'd just love not to be behind in every subject.

Singer Maureen Nolan was talking to Pamela Coleman


1954 Born in Dublin

1959 First school, St Eta's, Dublin

1962 Family moves to England

1962-65 St Kentigern's primary, Blackpool

1963 Begins singing with family group, The Nolans

1965-69 St Catherine's secondary modern, Blackpool

1973 Group has regular spot on Cliff Richard TV series

1975 Tours with Frank Sinatra

1979 I'm in the Mood for Dancing becomes group's first big hit record

1980s, 90s onwards regular tours of England and Japan

2004 Appears in pantomimes Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty

2004 First serious acting role in Mum's the Word

2005 Takes over lead role in Blood Brothers at Phoenix Theatre, London

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