Trisha Goddard

4th April 2008 at 01:00
An enthusiastic and encouraging English teacher inspired this chat-show host

I was pretty good at school, always diligent. I concede I was an opinionated young lady and a bit of a chatterbox, but I did my work. I loved learning and I still do today. I'll never forget my English teacher at Sir William Perkins's Grammar School in Chertsey. I started at that school on the same day she did in September 1969.

I can vividly recall the first class I had with her. I noticed straight away that she was short, standing at just 5ft 2in. She had long black hair, which she wore in a bun, and thick Sixties-style eyeliner. The first thing she did was write her name on the board: Alison Millard.

She was my English teacher throughout my time at that school and I credit my love of reading and writing, and even the fact I ended up in journalism, to her. She was the most nurturing and encouraging teacher.

I don't think everybody in the school liked her as much as I did. I imagine that you probably wouldn't have liked her if you weren't good at English. But if you tried your best and did your work, she got excited about your achievements and that felt fantastic. She also had a great sense of humour and made her subject come alive.

She wasn't a pushover; she could maintain discipline and would put you down with sarcasm if she had to. When she got cross there was never any shouting; she didn't need to.

I inherited a love of Shakespeare from my mother, who wanted me to have the best possible education, but through Mrs Millard I came to love it even more. She took us to see The Taming of the Shrew in London and the class went backstage. We met Sir Laurence Olivier and Dame Joan Plowright. I couldn't believe it.

She set us the task of writing a book. I called mine The Sign of the Cyclamen, a flower that grows where there is very little snow. When someone is lost in the mountains, if they see it, they know they can safely put their feet there. We wrote a weekly chapter and I'll never forget she put at the end of mine: "I can't wait for the next chapter." I was so encouraged.

She stood as a Labour candidate in Chertsey, but it was a Conservative area and it must have been difficult to be a left-wing socialist there. I was so impressed with her that when we did a mock election in the school to help us learn about politics I stood for Labour too (and got one vote).

It was from Mrs Millard that I got my life's quote, which comes from "Ulysses" by Alfred Lord Tennyson: "I will drink life to the lees." I always remember her talking about what that phrase meant to her - that we should drain life of every last drop of experience.

I went back to see her five or six years ago when I was promoting my book. Family Therapy. She was still at Sir William Perkins and had become head of the English department. She said she was excited to see my success, but that she wasn't surprised - she knew I would always end up doing something like this. I think she is retired now, but I'll always feel grateful to her.

Trisha Goddard is one of Britain's most popular chat-show hosts. Her daytime television programme is shown on Five every weekday. She was talking to Mark Anstead.

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