My best teacher

30th September 2005 at 01:00
I grew up in a rural part of Wiltshire and went to Grittleton House school.

It was a small school in a tiny village, with fewer than 300 pupils, going from infants through junior to senior, and I was there from around five until I was 15.

There were plenty of teachers who were pretty cool, but the one I remember as totally amazing was Megan Mills. She taught me right the way through my time there. Looking back, I find it astonishing that one teacher can take you for so many different subjects, and do them all with enthusiasm, knowledge and skill. She taught me the rudiments of maths and English grammar, she read stories and inspired us about books and she made art lessons creative and interesting. And then, on top of all that, she took the boys for football, too. She really knew the game and she used to go and watch West Ham every weekend.

Megan was an indomitable character. She seemed to be able to do anything and to turn her hand to everything - a born teacher. She could be strict when she needed to be, but you could have fun with her, too. If it was a nice summer's day, she'd take you out to the playground for the last English period of the day, rather than sitting in a stuffy classroom. I don't think I appreciated what she did for us at the time. You never do.

But now I think back, she was unbelievable.

Secretly, I had a really good time at school, although if you'd asked me then, I never would have admitted it. Megan Mills - yes, she was cool. I saw her about six months ago and I'm not sure if she's still teaching, but she's still a very cool lady.

And when I say she did everything, I'm not exaggerating. She used to play piano in assembly and she took us for music as well. She taught us singing and got us playing recorders. Then she'd play piano at the school concerts and she made me sing at them, even though in those days I desperately didn't want to do it. I hated it; the enjoyment of performing came much later. In fact, oddly enough, I didn't do a lot of music at school at all.

I was in school plays and a few musicals, but I couldn't say it was central to my school life. There were people doing serious school music lessons and coming back with their certificates and showing them off. But that wasn't me.

I started getting into rock music and jazz around 14, and I became that nerdy kid who's not only got all the contemporary stuff but has all the Jimi Hendrix back catalogue and weird jazz such as Miles Davis, too. But music was something I did outside school. It was my rebellion. I had piano lessons when I was young but gave them up very quickly. I consider myself a self-taught musician. If you're going to find a passion for music you have to discover it for yourself, not be told to love it. Telling kids that if they give it up they'll regret it when they're older is the best way to drive them away.

In music education, I think it's enthusiasm that's important. It has to be inspiring and you have to touch the imagination. Getting most schoolkids into Mozart and Bach is going to be hard, so you have to inspire them with music they want to listen to and might want to copy and play. That's how I got into music. It wasn't through a teacher telling me how a fugue is constructed, and I still don't know.

Now I've got involved with the Royal Albert Hall and their music education programme and I'm doing a schools matinee performance for them in November.

I feel lucky that my music can reach different kinds of audiences, both old and young. I'm not pompous or fashion conscious so I don't care if it's not a very cool thing to do a schools performance. I just thought "let's get lots of schoolkids down and sing and play for them and it'll be great".

Musician Jamie Cullum was talking to Nigel Williamson


1979 Born in Essex

1984-95 Grittleton House school, Wiltshire

1996-97 Sheldon comprehensive, Chippenham

1999-2001 Attends Reading University and sings and plays with the Berkshire Jazz Orchestra as well as doing solo gigs

2002 Records album Pointless Nostalgic which he releases independently

2003 UniversalVerve releases major label debut album, Twentysomething. It sells a million and he becomes the biggest-selling British jazz artist in history

September 2005 Releases Catching Tales. Free copies sent to head girls of 430 UK schools. November 15 Concert for secondary schools at Royal Albert Hall. See

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