I was the only mixed-race pupil at Monk’s Walk School in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire. I’d excelled at sport from a young age and by the time I arrived at Monk’s Walk, aged 11, it was my absolute passion. My mum, Beverly, was an outstanding gymnast and my dad, Melvin, was a talented footballer, so I guess it was inevitable that I would be sporty too.
My love of sport was a running joke with my friends because they all hated it. While I was speeding around the cross-country track they would shuffle reluctantly behind me chatting as they all tried to find a short cut. But whether we were sporty or not, we all loved our wonderful PE teacher Mrs Furness.
She oozed enthusiasm and inspired me to exceed my own expectations, whether it was on the hockey pitch or in the gym. Some of my teachers were incredibly boring and looked as though they were willing themselves on to get through the day. Mrs Furness wasn’t like that at all. She genuinely cared and was passionate about sport. She pushed me to do my best in athletics and encouraged me to train with the boys, which definitely helped me to become stronger and faster.
She always went the extra mile. When I was about 14, I was called to the headteacher’s office. I assumed that I was in trouble, but instead I was told that I’d been selected to play netball for the county. I was euphoric. But by the time I got home I was in floods of tears, because it dawned on me that I wouldn’t be able to get to the training sessions – they took place on the other side of Hertfordshire. My mum didn’t have a car and we were pretty poor, so there was no spare money for public transport.
Without being asked, Mrs Furness stepped in and offered to drive me to training. It was incredibly kind of her.
It was her enthusiasm and dedication that made me decide that I wanted to be a PE teacher. I coached some of the younger children in gymnastics and even studied for a diploma in sports science. But when I was 18, I joined a street dancing class in central London and the course of my life changed. I was approached by two talent scouts and my performing career took off.
A couple of years ago, I was asked to make a speech at a local theatre where my nan often performs. I was incredibly nervous, but as I was talking I spotted Mrs Furness in the crowd. She smiled at me and I felt at ease instantly.
After the show, I had a drink with her and Mrs Cook, another sports teacher from the school, who was also brilliant. Mrs Furness was still at Monk’s Walk and still loved her job. She told me how proud she was of everything I’d achieved, which really meant a lot. I was grateful to have the chance to thank her for everything she did for me; she taught me to keep going, however tough things get.
My determination and tenacity were probably always there, but Mrs Furness showed me how to tap into my positive qualities. She gave me the greatest gift of all – self-belief – and it definitely helped me get to where I am now.
Alesha Dixon was talking to Kate Bohdanowicz. Dixon is a curator at Electric Jukebox, an online jukebox with millions of albums and singles. electricjukebox.com
Born 7 October 1978, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire
Education Harwood Hill Junior School and Monk’s Walk School, Welwyn Garden City
Career Singer and television presenter. Found fame with girl group Mis-Teeq. Former judge on Strictly Come Dancing and current judge on Britain’s Got Talent