My best teacher - Erin O'Connor

22nd April 2011 at 01:00
A 'groovy 30-something chick' helped bring out the supermodel's penchant for music and public performance

I grew up in Brownhills, Staffordshire, and attended the local comprehensive. It was called Brownhills then - now it's Brownhills Technology College, which sounds very swish. School was a rushed 15-minute walk away from home and I always got there just before my name was read out from the register.

I was quite sporty at school and especially keen on cross-country running. I could run long distances, but I was no sprinter. I couldn't motivate my legs to go quickly enough - they were too long.

My teachers were cool and open, sharing their own life experiences in lessons. There was no pressure to go to university: the focus was always on enjoying the learning.

The teacher who stood out was Miss Ferguson. She taught me music from 11 to 18. She wasn't your run-of-the-mill music teacher: she was caring and passionate about music. Instead of singing hymns, we'd belt out Beatles tunes in her class and she made sure the sheet music was in different colours. l learnt to play the flute, read music and compose, thanks to her. Music became my favourite subject.

Having grown up in quite a church-orientated community, I was used to singing, but Miss Ferguson gave me my first experience of singing solo in front of a room full of people, during a concert. I was 11. She played the piano while I sat in front of a microphone, bending over slightly because I didn't want people to notice how tall I was. While singing I could see her eyes on mine in a reassuring way, completely with me from beginning to end. Afterwards, she said: "One day you'll appreciate being noticed."

She was a groovy, 30-something chick, and northern, from Yorkshire. She wore dangly earrings, gypsy-style skirts, patterned blouses and funky coloured tights with leather ankle boots. It was almost as though she brought her personal life into school and we got to be a part of it. She was tall; I think that was a presence thing. I outgrew her though, but that's no surprise with me being 6ft tall.

The only time I recall her telling me off was when I failed to hand in my A-level musical composition on time. She shot me down, saying: "Where is it and why isn't it finished?" That was probably the most helpful day of my life. I realised that if I wanted to succeed with something I loved, I had to work really hard. On the back of my rebuke I submitted three compositions, including one called Free Spirit and another called The Unquiet Grave. It was total adolescent territory with drama written all over it.

Miss Ferguson wanted me to become a music teacher, but when I started modelling at 17, after a talent scout spotted me at The Clothes Show Live in Birmingham, she was very supportive and said: "This is something you can do."

I adored her, and what is really cool is that we're still in touch. We speak once a week, always text, and see each other when I go home. I saw Miss Ferguson very recently: she took part in a documentary I filmed for CNN International. I was secretly listening in on the interview Miss Ferguson gave to CNN. During it, she said she was so worried about me when I started modelling because I was "such a delicate little flower". This was quite revealing because I remember her supportive words.

Miss Ferguson's first name is Elaine. She tells me off for not calling her Elaine, but I still can't quite manage to call her anything but Miss Ferguson - it feels practically illegal.

Erin O'Connor is an ambassador for Fairy Clean and Care with a touch of Olay softness. She was talking to Adeline Iziren.

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