My best teacher - Dermot O'Leary

17th December 2010 at 00:00
The X Factor presenter didn't have a glitzy school career, but his politics teacher got him his first break in media

I come from a typical Irish working-class family where education is taken seriously. My parents' ethos is work hard and try your best.

I always enjoyed school, but I never excelled. I don't think I ever tried hard enough in my studies. If I'm honest, I think I enjoyed school too much, but I didn't play truant. I was not part of the cool gang, but I had a lovely set of friends.

I loved history and RE, liked drama and English literature and I enjoyed PE. I was never particularly academic. When I was re-sitting my GCSEs - which tells you all you need to know - a teacher told my father he didn't think I was university material.

I attended the local village primary school in Marks Tey, Essex, and more than anything else I remember the seemingly endless summers and harvest festivals. I remember being in musicals, which at the time seemed bigger than The X Factor. But I also remember not getting the part of Fagin in Oliver!

My best teacher then was a lady called Mrs Harlow, and I have to give her and another teacher, Mrs Briggs, credit because they really worked hard on my reading. I didn't read particularly well until I was about five or six. A classic boy, I suppose; "a slow burn".

My secondary school, St Benedict's Catholic College in Colchester, was a classic Catholic school. I had a wonderful RE teacher there called Bob Hastie, who has since passed away. You would expect the RE teacher in a RC school to be teaching strict doctrine and scripture, but he was quite the opposite. I think he was responsible for a lot of people not turning away from the religion. He believed in using faith in a practical, rather than in a judgemental, way.

My English teacher was one of the most inspirational men I have ever met. He was called Joe Sheerin and I think he was a published poet. We were one of his last classes - I think he retired a couple of years after teaching us. He was kind of a Dead Poets Society-Robin Williams character. You would spend endless hours talking to him about religion or philosophy. We had to study the poet Edith Sitwell, who we all hated, and he would just make constant jokes about it and essentially admit that it was almost impossible to study her.

You would leave the classroom thinking, "How am I going to pass this exam, we haven't really studied anything today?" and yet somehow I got a B. I have not been in touch with him for a while, but he is one of those people I have been meaning to email for some time.

The other teacher who helped me a lot was my politics teacher, Neil Kelly. He also taught me at sixth form. Two weeks before our A-levels, he told us to forget everything that we had learnt and gave us an alternative view. It was terrifying being told just before the A-level exam that we had to relearn the subject, but almost all the class got As. I got an A. I remember that the whole class went to his house and watched the 1992 general election until the early hours. That wouldn't happen now.

He was the most thorough teacher and a brilliant orator and debater. In fact, we debated every week. You would walk into the classroom believing in something and walk out thinking something completely different.

I read politics at university and he was definitely pivotal in me making that decision. He was also a very keen sports commentator, and after I graduated from university I went back to see him and he said he could get me some work experience if I fancied it. My first taste of work was as a runner at BBC Radio Essex. Thankfully, I have never looked back.

l Dermot O'Leary is presenter of `The X Factor' 2010 on ITV1 and presents the `Dermot O'Leary Show' on Radio 2 on Saturday afternoons. The CD `Dermot O'Leary presents The Saturday Sessions' is out now. He was talking to Anne Joseph.

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