My best teacher - Max Clifford

15th April 2011 at 01:00
The sports-mad PR guru spurned academia but found a kindred spirit who shared his outlook

My old senior school is now a block of flats in Wimbledon, but when I was growing up it was Pelham Secondary Modern, where I went to school between the ages of 11 and 15.

Back then, it was post-war and things were always a struggle for my mum and dad; not that I was very aware of this as everyone else in my neighbourhood was in the same boat. We had an outside toilet and no bathroom, and I can remember when I was very young that mum had to take in lodgers to help pay the bills.

At school I wasn't remotely academic, but I was always quite good at sport. If you played football, cricket or swam for the school, you missed a lot of lessons and that suited me very well. It seemed to suit the teachers even better, as I was constantly quite a disruptive influence. I got bored very easily and was forever getting up to no good and playing practical jokes on my classmates. Any disruption in the classroom seemed like a good idea at the time and, as I was always quite creative, finding ways and means to achieve this came very easily to me.

However, this would never happen with Mr Simmonds. I can't even remember what he taught now, but I enjoyed his lessons and liked and respected him. I didn't feel the same way about any of the other teachers and found a lot of them very uptight and nasty, which was probably more my fault than theirs. But Mr Simmonds always came across as a calm and fair man who had a relaxed and happy attitude to life.

The rest of my classmates and I probably learnt a lot more from him than we did from any other teacher because of the way he was. Don't get me wrong, he wasn't soft and he definitely wasn't someone you could muck around with. He just had a very nice manner about him. He was also fit: he played quite a bit of sport, and I suppose because I was sports mad that probably had a positive influence on me as well.

The academic standards were so low in my class, it was really easy for someone with basic intelligence not to do very much and still keep up with everyone else. My mum and dad never seemed too concerned with my academic progress. As long as I wasn't getting into trouble and seemed happy and healthy, they were satisfied.

My older sister, Eleanor, was far more focused and academic, winning just about every major scholarship going before working in the City and then the diplomatic service. But I was never really interested, so it's probably just as well that, by pure chance, I discovered a career for which you didn't have to be academically qualified to be successful. I've been very lucky to build a business doing something that I absolutely love and that always came very naturally to me.

I enjoyed school because of the fun and the sport, but the emphasis was never on education. It was always about making the day as enjoyable as possible, and it has been ever since. Life has been a huge journey for me, and I've been incredibly lucky. I think about how my mum and dad would have loved to experience some of the things I have and this makes me feel even luckier.

I'm delighted that my daughter Louise, in spite of having juvenile rheumatoid arthritis from the age of six, studied hard and went on to Bournemouth University, where she got her media degree. She had a happy upbringing and has a very nice home and lifestyle. However, Louise will probably never appreciate her good fortune in the way I do as she has never known anything else. I had a very happy childhood, but it's only looking back now that I realise it.

Max Clifford is a publicist. He supports a range of charities, including the Sam Beare Hospice in Weybridge; Oasis children's charity in Cobham; the Royal Marsden children's cancer unit; the CHASE children's hospice near Guildford; and Children's Hospices UK. He was speaking to Laura Nelson.

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