My best teacher

5th May 2006 at 01:00
The housemaster caught me listening to the Top 20 on a little transistor radio after lights out and gave me 10 whacks with a hairbrush

Portrait by Jim Wileman

My schooldays began when I was just a few months old. Mum was a supply headmistress, and when she was working I would go to school with her on the back of her bike. My earliest memories are of dinner ladies cooing over me as I played with beads in a playpen in a corner of the classroom.

Mum was a good teacher. I was the eldest of five and there was a lot of pressure to succeed; we've all done pretty well, really. My brother, Patrick, was the clever one and became a headmaster in Northumberland; Peter runs a hotel in Yorkshire; Philip has a chain of shops; and Susan has a hotel in Bath.

When I was five I went to the village primary school, but the presumption was that I wasn't going to pass the 11-plus so I was sent to Wells Cathedral school at the age of nine, first as a day boy and then as a boarder. Peter and I took the choral test, but we both failed despite the fact that we had really good voices. I was a soprano and loved singing. I had a bit of a stutter and singing was part of the therapy for my speech impediment.

One teacher I really liked at Wells was a Welshman called Mr Howell-Jones.

He was my form master and English teacher, and the great thing about him was that he saw the talent in kids who were nervous, as I was. He made me think I had something to offer. Although he looked a bit scary with his black curly hair and horn-rimmed glasses, he really cared about everybody.

He was a real star; he knew his stuff and taught with a passion.

Mr Howell-Jones gave me top marks for the first time in my life, for an essay I wrote about my holidays. We didn't go away on holiday as a family; my school holidays were spent working on the farm, so I wrote about haymaking and life at home. That was the big breakthrough in my education.

Once I realised someone was interested in me and what I could do, my attitude changed.

Between lessons we used to have fights with rubber bands and paper pellets and one day Mr Howell-Jones walked in early and got caught in the crossfire. He was generally tolerant, but he was really cross about having pellets in his hair. We all thought we'd be given 1,000 lines, but he just made us clear up the mess. The next day, however, he came in with packets and packets of elastic bands and piles of paper pellets already made up and we spent the whole hour of the lesson firing them. It was quite a novel way of dealing with us. Shooting each other with pellets wasn't wicked any more. We didn't do it again.

Another favourite teacher at Wells was Nikki - I forget her surname - who gave piano lessons and was married to one of the masters. She was gorgeous: Scandinavian, about 20, with long blonde hair and marvellous bosoms. She would lean over me to demonstrate how to play and I was so jittery I couldn't concentrate. I never got anywhere with the piano, but I loved the lessons.

I have always loved music and was crazy on Elvis Presley and Pee Wee Hunt when I was a kid. When I became a boarder, I would listen to the Top 20 on a little transistor set hidden under my pillow. The housemaster, Alan Tarbat, caught me listening after lights out one night and gave me 10 whacks with a hairbrush. He obviously didn't bear a grudge because he later made me head boy of Cedars house.

I was so chuffed. Suddenly I lost my shyness. I started a birdwatching society at school and in the holidays organised a camp down on the farm for about a dozen kids from the village. It was like a miniature festival. We generated our own electricity with upside down bicycles and played team games. I found then that I really enjoyed being with lots of people and trying to bring them on board and persuade them to make things happen.

Michael Eavis, founder of the Glastonbury Festival, was talking to Pamela Coleman


1935 Born Pilton, Somerset

1940-44 Pilton village school

1944-50 Wells Cathedral school

1950-54 Serves with Merchant Navy

1970 Organises Pilton Pop Festival starring Marc Bolan (attendance 1,500, tickets pound;1)

1979 Glastonbury Fayre becomes a three-day event

1981 Event renamed Glastonbury Festival

1994 Launches Hastoe housing scheme for local young people

2002 Glastonbury film project begins

2005 Attendance at Glastonbury Festival reaches 153,000; tickets cost Pounds 125. pound;1,350,000 raised for charity

2006 Receives honorary degree from Bristol University. Release of Glastonbury, the film

2007 Next festival, June 22-24

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