My best teacher: Ben Shephard

11th February 2011 at 00:00
The TV presenter found that for a `cheeky Essex boy' the only rival to sport was English

I loved school. I wasn't very academic, but I was very aware that I needed to work hard to do well. That came from my parents, really. My mum used to work nights and also taught at an FE college during the day. My dad was a financial analyst in the city. They worked their socks off for us to have a great education.

When I was about 10 I got a music scholarship to Chigwell School in Essex and started at the junior school there.

At school I learnt piano and clarinet and went on to learn saxophone and bass saxophone. But I didn't really enjoy music at school. I suppose I was quite good but it was more of an obligation.

There was a big conflict between sport and music at Chigwell. I really didn't get on with one of the music teachers, who resented how much time I spent on football. But I am still really good friends with one of the heads of music - he played the organ at my wedding.

One of my favourite teachers at Chigwell was Graham Inch. He was my form tutor when I was about 12 and was also my football coach. He had curly blond hair and a moustache that he carried off with a certain aplomb - as a 35-year-old man I now realise how hard that is.

But the teacher who left the biggest impression on me was my English teacher, Mr Ballance. He started teaching me in junior school and continued all the way through to my A-levels.

I always had a love of English, especially drama and plays. Mr Ballance could recite passages of Shakespeare endlessly and brought the subject to life for us.

When you are an 11 or 12-year-old, growing up on the outskirts of Essex in east London, the last thing anyone should be interested in is Shakespeare, by all accounts. All we cared about was football - our days revolved around it. We would get to school, decide what teams we were all going to be in, and play football during lunch and after school.

But Mr Ballance had this enthusiasm and passion that he passed on to me and any of my friends who continued to study English. He was just a brilliant teacher and really energetic.

I have always been an enthusiastic person. If I ever discover something - an album or a film - I love being able to share that passion. It is one of the most priceless things you can have when you are a TV presenter because you can communicate that idea.

I definitely got my passion for that from him, because he brought it all to life - it wasn't just poetry, or grammar or prose. It was something that he absolutely adored and he relished sharing that.

He was very tall and had thinning, grey hair. He wore tweed jackets and struck me as being quite elegant. I remember that he had a very long stride.

We were definitely intimidated by him, a bit daunted. We were cheeky boys from Essex, so he put up with a lot, but we had a huge amount of respect for Mr Ballance. We always knew he had a temper.

The other thing we used to love about his lessons was that it was really easy to get him off the subject. We could completely change the lesson and get him talking. There was nothing he enjoyed more than satisfying pupils' curiosity.

He left Chigwell and we lost contact. But years later, I was presenting on GMTV and I mentioned him while we were talking about teachers with great names. He didn't have a television, and would always say he didn't know anything about whatever rubbish we were talking about. But he was getting his hair cut the day of that discussion, and the barber said that he had heard me mention Mr Ballance and asked if he knew me.

I received a letter in the post from him, along with a short play that he had written. He said that he still didn't have a TV.

I went back to my old school last year. It was a really strange position to be in - I had seen loads of people coming in giving talks when I was a pupil. But now I was the boring old fart doing a speech.

Ben Shephard is a presenter for Sky Sports and champion for the Arts Award, a qualification that supports the next generation of artists. Go to He was talking to Meabh Ritchie.

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