Sian Lloyd flies flag for Welsh

20th June 2003 at 01:00
The reality TV heroine and founder of the Social, Welsh and Sexy club wants to be a cheerleader for learning in her national language. Adi Bloom reports.

COPING with unfamiliar surroundings and the company of strangers was one of the defining experiences of Sian Lloyd's life.

For the ITV weather forecaster, her experience at being sent to a Welsh language school aged four, made being stranded in the Australian outback for the ITV reality programme I'm a Celebrity - Get Me Out Of Here a breeze.

"I'm a Celebrity was a false, sanitised experience," she said of the two-week endurance-test. "However, I gained real self-confidence from being at school. There were 50 pupils, and I was the only one from an English-speaking home. I spoke no Welsh when I started, but within half a term I was fluent."

Ms Lloyd feels so strongly about the benefits of learning in Welsh, she has decided to act as its advocate. She hopes the boost I'm a Celebrity has given her profile will help get her message heard.

At the recent Urdd Eisteddfod youth festival, near her south Wales hometown of Neath, she called on the Welsh Assembly to grant more funding to Welsh-medium schools. "You've got to experiment, to think out of the box," she told The TES.

"Welsh-language schools have an amazing record, but their expertise isn't being used. Their skill could help English-medium schools teach Welsh. And why not use it to teach other languages?"

Her experiences at Ystalyfera school, in Neath Port Talbot, served as valuable preparation for later life. Whether training in meteorology as an adult, or battling eight-day constipation in the outback, she has been able to draw on skills gained during her school days.

"We would sing, dance and perform at the Eisteddfod," she said. "I'm convinced that's the reason I can stand in front of 15 million people and give a broadcast."

While never tempted to enter the classroom herself, 44-year-old Sian Lloyd's education pedigree is immaculate: both her parents were teachers, as were her aunts. Her mother, Barbara Lloyd, was president of the National Union of Teachers in 1990.

And she hopes to have an impact on education through her boyfriend, Lembit Opik, Liberal Democrat MP for Montgomeryshire, with whom she co-founded the London-based Social, Welsh and Sexy club.

She has, she says, had a few quiet words. "If you come out of university with a good degree, teaching just doesn't pay enough. It's bloody hard work. I tell my boyfriend that, if the Lib Dems get into power, he has to double teachers' salaries overnight."

ELWa in trouble, 34

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