Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

'I Was So Desperate That I Considered Jumping off a Ledge'

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

'I Was So Desperate That I Considered Jumping off a Ledge'

Article excerpt

Stories from dyslexic celebrities reveal how vital teachers are

Most were told they were stupid. Several were caned. Others were singled out and humiliated by teachers, or bullied by classmates. Stories of the ways in which celebrities struggled with dyslexia at school have been collected in a new book.

Author Margaret Rooke shows how high-achievers such as photographer David Bailey, Strictly Come Dancing judge Darcey Bussell and screenwriter Lynda La Plante were once told they would amount to nothing.

"They thought I was stupid and arrogant, and they believed I could have done the work if I tried," says Bailey, who attended school in the 1940s and 50s, and went on to photograph swinging 60s London. He describes how his headmaster - "Skelton, a horrible man" - used to cane him for his inability to spell. "He made me stand up in class, and he would embarrass me because he thought I was getting the words wrong on purpose," Bailey tells Ms Rooke. "Skelton...said, 'Someone's got to dig the road.' "

Lord Rogers, the architect known for his work on the Millennium Dome and the Lloyd's building in London, went to school around the same time. "For most of my school days, my ambition was to be second-bottom of the class," he says. "I was just a 'stupid kid'. I was beaten regularly and cried every night. At 7 or 8, I was so desperate I considered jumping off a ledge."

Alienation is a common theme. Entertainer Brian Conley, who went to school in the 1960s and 70s, says that he was often picked on by classmates. "I assumed I would end up being a tramp, because I was thick," he says. "If I was in any exam...I felt as if I'd been beamed down from another planet."

Meanwhile, actor Zoe Wanamaker, who was at school during the 1950s and 60s, speaks about how she feared she was letting her parents down. "I think the teachers saw me as another creature," she says. "When it came to the academic side, I was away with the pixies."

Coping mechanisms

Some of the celebrities developed tricks to help themselves cope with school life. La Plante, whose screenwriting credits include TV series Prime Suspect, used to memorise stories and recite them back, parrot-fashion, whenever teachers asked her to read out loud. The trick was eventually spotted by a teacher, who helped her to learn to read. …

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