My best teacher - Zandra Rhodes

23rd October 2009 at 01:00
Fortunately for her teacher, this world-famous fashion designer loved art so much that she gave every piece her all and never looked for distractions with classmates

I loved school and never wanted to leave. I was very happy there. I didn't have a lot of friends, but I had a small group. I wasn't that close to them at the time because I was always working, which is exactly what I'm like now. You can see how boring I was from the picture. I only allowed myself to go out once a week, which was Saturday.

I was too slow and didn't pass the 11-plus, so I worked and worked to make sure I would pass the selection test at 13. I believe very much in the exam system. The whole world is going to knock you down and be competitive, so you should learn that when you're young and have a school system that teaches you that.

I went to Medway Technical School for Girls in Fort Pitt, Kent (now Fort Pitt Grammar School). It had been a hospital in the time of the Crimean War and there was a great sense of history. It was quite fabulous. Some of the rooms were old operating theatres and the hockey pitches were in the moat.

On the whole, the teachers were nice and none of them were intimidating. They were wonderful women who encouraged us to work hard.

I enjoyed art classes because it was the only subject that I was naturally good at; it wasn't as difficult. It was more relaxing than other subjects. My teacher at GCE was Mrs Grunwald, who was lovely. She was a short Austrian woman who did artwork in her own right, so she was very encouraging.

I sat in the front row because I didn't like anyone disturbing what I was doing. To me, there's no point in doing anything unless you're going to be the best at it, in which case you sit and you work at it. It wasn't a case of the teacher needing to discipline us.

I thought I would be a teacher, but when I got to do it, after I was at the Royal College of Art, I didn't like it. I taught two days a week from 1964 to 1969 to make money. The designers Betty Jackson and Michael Roberts were some of my students, but I don't really remember them. Most people said I was a good teacher.

I was always encouraged by a wonderful mother and that made all the difference. She taught at the local art college and in the evenings she would sew to make extra money. She was the one who said I should go on to art college. My teachers thought it was a bit of a let down and that I should have done something more academic.

I'm a strong believer in home encouragement. It's parents saying, "Why don't you try this?" that has an impact. If I asked my mother to pose for me at the sewing machine, she would do it. This is what a lot of kids don't have these days. To be a parent is a responsibility that I would not be willing to take on. I think the decision should be taken just as responsibly as I take my work.

We've all got to find something we are good at that we can value ourselves in. If you have to spend three-quarters of your life working, then isn't it sad if you don't enjoy it?

  • Zandra Rhodes CBE has been at the forefront of British design since the 1970s. She was speaking to Meabh Ritchie.

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