My best teacher - Matt Baker

8th October 2010 at 01:00
A nudge from his tutor and a drama graduate, and next thing he's a Blue Peter presenter

I've had a number of good teachers and coaches in my life. Mrs Robinson was wonderful in my last year at Easington Village CofE Primary School in County Durham. She put lots of artwork on the walls and was forever drawing huge pictures. I was really into my art then and still love doing cartoons. She really encouraged me.

My truly inspirational teachers were at Durham Sixth Form Centre. It all started when I took part in a college production of Grease. I was a gymnast for many years and they needed someone to do back flips and somersaults in the production.

My form tutor, Mr O'Leary, was running the show. He had glasses and a moustache and always wore bright ties and pink suits. He was outgoing and really funny - a brilliant character, forever cracking jokes. He was also a wonderful piano player and, because he was the musical director and in charge of it all, I thought it couldn't be that bad.

Miss Lennon, the drama teacher, was also involved. She had trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama and wasn't long out of college herself. She felt like one of the pupils and had a really lovely way about her. I ended up taking one of the bigger parts in the show and it went really well. As a result, both teachers encouraged me to swap my A-levels.

I was doing sports science, biology and classics, but with their support I dropped classics for drama. I originally wanted to be a physiotherapist, but after A-levels I auditioned for drama school. Miss Lennon helped me work through my audition pieces and I landed a place at Queen Margaret College (now Queen Margaret University) in Edinburgh. I'd been there 18 months when I heard Blue Peter was looking for a presenter. I auditioned, got the job, and left half-way through the course. So Mr O'Leary and Miss Lennon were really influential, helping me make a life-changing decision. If it wasn't for Grease and swapping my A-levels, I wouldn't be doing what I am today.

It helped that I was a former gymnast. Before Grease, I spent all my time on gymnastics and neglected my education.

My gymnastic coaches were also inspirational. I joined my first club when I was seven. Mr Malaney was really encouraging, and he passed me on to the Centre of Excellence in Billingham. Mr Crawford pushed me, and I came second in the national finals and made it into the British squad. I was also the British sport acrobatics champion and had my heart set on the Olympics.

A diagnosis of anaemia ended it all as it meant cutting down on training. My studies were also suffering. Exams were coming up and I had got what I wanted out of the sport. I had hit the top. It was time to quit.

Now I commentate on gymnastics for the BBC. I went to the Beijing Olympics and, fingers crossed, I should be doing 2012.

l Matt Baker presented `Blue Peter' for seven years and now presents `Countryfile' on BBC1. He is a competitor in this year's `Strictly Come Dancing'. He was talking to Sheryl Simms.

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