My best teacher - Claire Young

9th July 2010 at 01:00
The Apprentice star recalls the 'queen bee rottweiler' who made sure her charges could cope with anything

I went to Wakefield Girls' High School and my best teacher was the head, Pat Langham. She went on to be head of the Girls' Schools Association and she is an amazing woman. When people tell me I'm so driven and say that I have done so much, I say to them: "Meet my headmistress and meet my mum." Between the two of them they whipped me into action. A lot of people have called me a rottweiler, and I think Miss Langham created thousands of us. She was queen bee rottweiler.

We all had a huge amount of respect for Miss Langham. She was quite modern and a very strong female role model. She wore huge stilettos and would have been quite tall in her heels, about six foot. She struck the balance of having authority - there was no question about that - but we also liked her. We listened to every single thing she said.

I think some heads can be distant figures, but she was very hands on. At lunchtime she would patrol the corridors to make sure people were not causing trouble. She would be at the pelican crossing at 4pm, making sure our skirts were not rolled up and she patrolled the town, making sure you weren't kissing boys. We weren't even allowed to eat in the street in town.

She was a fantastic public speaker. I do public speaking now, and how on earth she came up with assemblies for 800 girls every morning I do not know. I remember one time, when I was about 11 or 12, she had just split up with her husband and she gave an assembly telling us about it, as people were talking about it at the school.

She said: "As a Wakefield Girls' High girl, I hold my head up high. I have got dignity and that is all I'm going to say on the matter", and I thought, 'wow, I really want to be like you.'

I was always 100 miles an hour. I didn't start speaking until I was four, but my mum says that when I did start talking it was in full sentences.

There was a group of about 10 of us and we were seen as the outspoken girls of the year. I can remember our parents were brought in and the teachers said: "We don't know what to do about this group of girls. They are all bright, they can cope with their work and get through it quickly, but then they disturb the rest of the class."

I did lots of social activities and had loads of friends. We had dance class at lunchtime and I helped manage the tuck shop. There were loads of social things going on - summer balls, junior discos - and I would help out with organising.

Aside from being a very academic school, we were all taught to have very high aspirations. If I turned round and said I wanted to be prime minister, it would have been: "How are you going to make that happen?" It was a very competitive school.

The one thing I criticise my school for was that it was very blinkered. I got straight As but I turned down applying for Cambridge because it wasn't for me and that was a bit of a shock to the school. I think it was the culture of private school. People (went on to) do traditional, professional occupations. There were lots of vets, bankers, lawyers and doctors.

In The Apprentice final, I was petrified about having to present in front of Alan Sugar and all these other people and I thought, 'What would Pat Langham do?' She would say, "Pull yourself together and get on with it." So that's what I did.

Claire Young was a finalist in the 2008 BBC TV series 'The Apprentice' and is hosting the National Apprenticeship Awards on July 15. For more information on the awards and apprenticeships, visit She was talking to Meabh Ritchie.

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