My sister, Lena, dreamed of becoming a schoolteacher. When she received a blackboard and easel for a birthday present, she pretended to be a teacher by practising on me.
Every Saturday, without fail, she’d hold classes for me, even setting homework. The positive side to this is that I could read and write before attending primary school.
After achieving my 11-plus, I spent four years at a grammar school called Portadown College. My parents were against me going because they thought it was too posh and they couldn’t afford the clothes and books.
I had to fight for the right to attend – and because I’d been making money singing since the age of 7, I told them that I was going to grammar school and, if necessary, would buy everything myself. Eventually I wore them down. That’s where I met Mr Spaulding.
He was a very imposing figure and had a real presence when entering a class. He taught Latin and although it was a subject I never got to grips with, I enjoyed an extra-curricular activity he organised. Every lunch hour, I’d tear home on my bike, gulp down my mother’s lovingly-prepared pies and tarts, then cycle back to school like the clappers to catch the half-hour or so left of the ballroom dancing classes he held in the assembly hall.
Boys would line up one side, girls the other, then we’d learn the samba, foxtrot, tango and waltz, with Mr Spaulding playing his music on an old Dansette record player.
I don’t know if he ever had Come Dancing ambitions, but in the ensuing years we were to bless him for the social skills he taught us. He was a good dancer and his enthusiasm for dancing was clearly evident: he passed that interest on to his willing students.
I was riveted by his dance lessons. They were great fun. He had a lot of style and was extremely persuasive, encouraging everyone to attend.
Another teacher I remember fondly is Mr Anderson, my French teacher at Portadown College. French was my favourite subject at school and I’d avidly read the academic books as if they were French novels. Sometimes I read them out to my parents in the kitchen after dinner – goodness knows what they thought.
I regarded it as very grand being taught another language and Mr Anderson always struck the right balance between making lessons informative but, at the same time, fun. He was a very good teacher and I learned lots from his lessons.
Magic of mademoiselles
Occasionally, he’d arrange for a young mademoiselle to come over and visit the school. This was very exciting, because I’d never left Northern Ireland. To talk to a real French person was amazing.
Sadly, my French isn’t that good these days, because I’ve forgotten lots over the years. But what I do remember still comes in handy whenever I’m in France, where my family owns a house in St Paul de Vence.
Looking back at my school days, I usually did what my parents wanted. So, when it was clear my father didn’t want me to attend university, I caved in and completed a secretarial course at the technical college instead. I was taught, among other subjects, shorthand, typing and book-keeping. Considering the journalistic career I followed, those skills turned out to be very useful.
Although I never met Mr Spaulding or Mr Anderson after leaving school, it was a real coincidence when Mr Anderson’s son, Don, became my boss on the radio at the BBC in Belfast. So the Anderson family was very embroiled in my life.
My Life by Gloria Hunniford is out now, published by John Blake. She was speaking to Richard Webber