My best teacher - Michaela Strachan

18th February 2011 at 00:00
The TV presenter credits a `hard-as-nails' jazz dance teacher for her drive to succeed

I went to a private girls' school called Claremont in Esher, Surrey, which later joined with Fan Court, a nearby boys' school.

It was a Christian Scientist school, which means it did not believe in medicine. I was not a believer but I still find it an interesting concept. If you are a true environmentalist, it makes sense because it solves the population problem. If you are sick, you pray, but if it is God's will for you to go, you die.

I was a bit of a goody two-shoes. I loved dancing, singing and drama, so I would rush home and get all my homework done before going off to do those extra-curricular things.

I was quite studious. Even now, I believe if there is a job to do, it is worth doing properly. As a result, I did well at school, but so much depended on the teacher.

I remember Mrs Brocklehurst teaching me. I was terrified of her and it was the worst year of my school life. The next year, I had a new teacher who I really liked and I won the school cup for improvement.

I did my O-levels and then left. I had known from a young age that I wanted to be an entertainer and go to theatre college. I was good at maths and science and the teachers wanted me to go down that route, but I had no doubts where I wanted to be.

I went to Arts Educational, a performing arts school in west London, to study musical theatre. It is there I met my jazz dance teacher, Jackie Bristow. She was as hard as nails; a really tough teacher.

On our first day, she lined us up and told us who was a good, bad or decent dancer. We were all cocky 16-year-olds, used to being the best in our class, and it really brought us down a peg or two.

If we were doing 50 or so sit-ups, and one person was struggling, Jackie would make us all start at the beginning. When trying to do what's known as a "dance layout" - where you arch your back with one leg outstretched - your stomach is meant to be hard. Jackie would go around the room punching us in the stomach: if it hurt, you knew you were doing it wrong.

Another favourite of hers was to hold a lit cigarette under your leg to make sure you didn't drop at all. Some did not warm to her, but we really hit it off.

I greatly respected her and, over time, we developed a real friendship. When I was going through a very difficult time, she was extremely supportive. We just clicked. When I needed money, she gave me a job working at the same bar as her in the evenings.

Although Jackie sometimes knocked me down, she also believed in me and built me back up. She didn't do that to everyone. Some had to realise that they were unlikely to make it.

I have always felt a lot of gratitude towards Jackie. She took me under her wing and got me my first proper job. After I left Arts Educational, I was in a musical in the West End. I popped in to see her and mentioned I wanted to move into children's presenting. She suggested I audition for the Wide Awake Club, and I got the job.

Jackie taught me so much and put me in the right direction. My admiration for her has only increased over the years.

Michaela Strachan is a TV presenter and supporter of healthy British food in schools (www.lovebritishfood.co.uk). She was speaking to Hannah Frankel.

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