My best teacher - David Essex

21st May 2010 at 01:00
The singer owes his writing talent to a leather-patched English teacher

Like a lot of young boys, I was obsessed with football. I played for West Ham Juniors and had my heart set on becoming a footballer.

Although I was quite bright, I didn't want to go to the grammar school, simply because they only played rugby, so I deliberately failed my 11- plus. I drew pictures of Popeye all over the maths paper, which seemed to do the trick. My parents were gobsmacked. Years later I told them what I had done; at the time they just couldn't understand what had happened. I couldn't bear the idea of not being able to play football.

Shipman County Secondary in east London, which is where I ended up, had a fantastic football team. We were also pretty good at boxing and we played cricket. Academically, it was a shocking school and no one wanted to learn.

On one occasion the science teacher brought some bees in to show us. He let them out of a glass case and explained that they would eventually fly back, but one boy turned the Bunsen burner on and gassed them. The teacher went berserk and started attacking us with his cane.

None of the teachers had any control over us except Mr Lloyd, who taught English. Where all the other staff would rant and scream and hit people with canes; he just had to raise one eyebrow and there was absolute quiet. He walked into the classroom and immediately one was aware of his charisma. It is a very important quality for a teacher, and you either have it or you don't. You can't fake it.

Mr Lloyd was a Welshman, probably in his early 50s, with grey hair, big bushy eyebrows and twinkly eyes. He looked like an archetypal teacher - I think he even had leather patches sewn on to the elbows of his tweed jacket - and you could smell his pipe in the classroom.

He held proper lessons. For once you felt you were learning something, you realised that this was how school was meant to be. He was an inspiring teacher and for some reason he took a bit of a shine to me. He never recommended any books to us to read or anything like that. I think he was sensible enough to realise that it would have been a waste of time, but he taught us how to write essays and tried to explain pronouns and adjectives and so on.

He became a mentor and because of him I became very interested in language. I later realised that I could write lyrics and went on to write my autobiography.

I dreamt of being a footballer until I was about 14 and started going to Soho (in central London) to have adventures. One night I went to the Flamingo Club, which was full of American GIs playing jazz and rhythm and blues. I stayed all night and thought, "This is it. I want to be a musician." I started playing in bands and football faded.

When I left school I got an apprenticeship to become an electrical engineer, but it wasn't long before the band I was playing with turned pro. The band fell apart but our manager, Derek Bowman, asked if I would be interested in becoming a solo singer, so I thought I would give it a go - and here I am.

My scholastic career was patchy, to say the least, but Mr Lloyd made a huge impression. He was fantastic. He was the man.

  • David Essex is appearing in `All the Fun of the Fair' at the Garrick Theatre until September 5. He was talking to Hilary Whitney.

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