My Best Teacher - Antony Worrall Thompson

24th April 2009 at 01:00
A kindly maths teacher took on a fatherly role for this celebrity chef who suffered abuse

My favourite teacher was Mr Edmunds, who taught me maths at my prep school - Milner Court Prep in Sturry, Kent (as it was then called) - from the age of about seven to 13. I was a nasty piece of work, but he was a very understanding man and sorted things out.

He was the only one I could turn to. It was in that almost Victorian time when there was no parentteacher relationship: you just handed your kids over and took them back at the end of the term. My mother didn't have a clue what was going on with me.

I was a very independent person who didn't like being told what to do. I got beaten up on average about four or five times a term. I kicked the head boy and the headmaster at one stage.

Mr Edmunds was always concerned about me after I'd been beaten and punished by teachers. I'd come back bleeding with bruises, bearing all to my fellow classmates - quite a sick thing really - but Mr Edmunds would always check that I was OK.

When I was about 12, I found out that one of the teachers was abusing about 30 or 40 of the kids. I had been on the receiving end of abuse before, but not on this occasion. I think (the teacher) thought that I was too much of a loose cannon and wouldn't have kept quiet.

One of the kids came to me and said he didn't know what to do, as this teacher was threatening to do pretty gruesome things, and I suggested we set him up. I arranged to be alone with the teacher near the river and told him that I couldn't find anyone to go boating with.

The two of us went rowing and, sure enough, he stopped us to have a rest on the river bank, where he did some perverted things to himself. On the way back, I gave the other boy a sign and told him to tell Mr Edmunds, as he was the only one likely to believe us.

This guy was hauled over the coals and asked to leave, but he wasn't sacked and the police weren't informed. What appalled me is that the teacher could go off and get another job. Funnily enough, I was voted most improved pupil at the prize-giving that summer.

I was quite streetwise: I'd run the streets in my holidays and knew what went on in life. I thought I could deal with it. I could swim, so I could have jumped in the river if things had got really bad.

I've always been the one to be able to open up about what happened. Mr Edmunds understood that kids needed to be listened to, and took an interest. He was tall with a hooked nose, but he was a gentle giant.

I was very small, like a Jack Russell, and would never give up - I've broken my nose several times, mainly my own fault - but he understood that I was a stubborn little boy who was driven and independent. He also knew that I didn't have a father - or a father that was interested in me - and he took on that role.

I was good at maths. Now the people I work with rely on the till and kids all rely on their calculators. My mother had a delicatessen in later life where I worked as a shop assistant, and the tills didn't tell you how much change to give.

After my autobiography, Raw, came out, Mr Edmunds wrote me a nice note saying that he remembered me well and hoped that I'd been able to put it behind me. I didn't really keep in touch because I wanted to put school behind me. My school days weren't the best years of my life, to be honest, but Mr Edmunds was one of the shining lights within that dark cloud.

Antony Worrall Thompson is a chef mentor on ITV's 'Taste the Nation' and supports National Family Week, which runs from May 25 to 31: He was speaking to Meabh Ritchie.

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