I thought, well, if I die, I die ...

The time: November 1970 The place: Convent of the Sacred He art, Woldingham, Surrey The woman: Dillie Keane, actress and songwriter

I was 18. I had stayed on for an extra term at school, the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Woldingham, to do music A-level. The school was so disorganised, they didn't get me a teacher until my final year and decided I couldn't do the A-level in a year, although I could have, like falling off a log.

We used to have dances with boys from Worth School, and I'd organised the school dance, and the next day they came and took us out. I thought we had permission. Turned out we didn't, because all one of the girls had done was leave a note for Sister Wilson, the headmistress.

We went to London, and saw Fellini's Satyricon, and I hated it so much, I was so nauseated by it, that I threw up. We got back to school terribly late, because we lost the way back from London. It was pitch dark, raining, absolutely lashing down, and I didn't know the way. It was about quarter to 10 by the time I finally got back. I went and faced the music, and Sister Wilson was unspeakably unpleasant to me, and told me I was lying; that I had known the way back.

She told me I was expelled. I would go the next morning; they were going to ring my mother. I didn't know what to do, and I was panicked, because my parents were quite strict, and I didn't see any way out. I thought, now my mother will make me go to secretarial college and my life is over, because I wanted to study music in Dublin at Trinity. It was a stupid idea, because it was a very poor faculty, but I just wanted to put a stretch of water between me and everything. I'd heard Dublin was fun, and I was determined to go to a university with a good track record for university players. I really wanted to go on the stage, but there was absolutely no way anyone would countenance sending me to drama school - for a good Irish Catholic family, upper-middle class, it was just not on.

I thought, well I've lost the support of the school, and they knew what difficulties I was having with my folks, persuading them that I could make an artistic career. I was hugely musical, but they wanted me to do what my sisters had done, and go to secretarial school.

So I sat in my room, expelled, and thought, oh well, I might as well take an overdose and see where that gets me.

I was fairly fatalistic; I thought, well, if I die, I die, and if I don't, I don't. At least it's some act of rebellion that is incontrovertible, that says, I want some control over my life, I didn't choose to be born, I didn't choose to go to this horrible school.

It had given me a fairly good education but it couldn't cope with somebody like me. I played the piano, I wrote songs and set poems to music. I remember setting a version of "The Banks and Braes of Bonnie Doon", which was actually fab. The teacher was staggered. She said: "That's awfully good, Dillie." And we played the old version, and I thought mine was better.

I was very insecure at school and profoundly unhappy. It was the most horrible place, filled with horrible snobs - that's why I do so much about class in the show, it's given me fodder for life, so I'm profoundly grateful. Me and my best friend, my cousin Ruth, developed a language nobody else could understand; we were constantly giggling.

We were frightfully pugnacious and made ourselves so unpopular with the teachers that one day Mother Grant, who was mistress of discipline - a phrase very hard to explain to people who weren't at the Sacred Heart - got up at assembly, and said, "There are two girls, in the Lower Fifth, old Hove girls, and in the Main House" - that narrowed it down to Ruth and me - "We don't like them; we don't like their behaviour; we don't really want them in the school."

God I hated it, but I've kept some good friends from school; nobody, not even me, is as poisonous outside as they are at school - Woldingham brought out the worst in all of us.

So that night I took a mixture of aspirin and iron which, as I was a doctor's daughter, I knew was a fairly serious mixture. It was a pretty feeble overdose, because I immediately told someone, who ran and got various nuns. I was carted off to Reigate General, and my poor old parents were rung in the middle of the night and had a terrible time. They were distraught. I remember being angry and a bit frightened, but more angry.

Sister Wilson came into hospital to see me and said, "Oh, you are a silly girl". My parents arrived and were miserable. I've painted an unfair picture, but they just didn't understand this extremely eccentric and off-beat kid they had. I've got two sisters and one brother, who are essentially much straighter than I am, and really very nice people. I think having this rather foul daughter with a strange knack for knocking out tunes and performing was really very bewildering for them.

That day my life started to change. I realised I could do what I wanted; it made me incredibly focused. An overdose gives you a little bit of leverage, and that's what I needed. I said to my parents, "I cannot fulfil this plan you have for me, I cannot go to a secretarial school. If I do, I will die; I will be utterly miserable. I cannot see the point of going on living if that's what it is. So therefore I have to do this. I burn to perform."

And they said, "Well what do you want to do?" And I said, "I'm going to do songs, and perform, and I want a career like Noel Coward's, or Peter Ustinov's. I want something like that. I can't define it." And they said, "But you can't; you're a girl, you've got marriage and children." But I'm never going to marry; I'm never going to have children.

My parents completely gave in. They were great. They supported me completely. They realised how important it was, that it was fundamental to me. I didn't even go back to school to pack. My mother had to do it, which was terribly humiliating for her, and they were horrible to her, I think. Mother Oakshott said to her, "You'll always have trouble with that girl".

It made me very, very determined. I did my interview to get in to university, and they said I had to get two more A-levels because my sociology didn't count, and Latin O-level.

I got all three in four months, and I got really good grades, as well. I wouldn't see anybody, I wouldn't go out with anybody, I just worked and worked; I would get up and have this incredibly drilled and disciplined life. It was great for me because I discovered that I had this amazing self-discipline, as long as I'm doing what I want, which is completely selfish. Before that I'd been terribly scattered.

So I did three years at Trinity, a music degree, and then I did three years at drama school, because I realised I'd been at the wrong place all along.

I'll never be a proper composer; what I can do is write quite fetching tunes in the style of - who's that guy who used to forge pictures? - Tom Keating. They're forgeries, my tunes, good forgeries, but that's all they are. I don't have any personal merit. That's why the lyrics are more important in a way; the tunes are just vehicles.

I haven't quite got Noel Coward's career, but it's not bad.

Dillie Keane appears with Adele Anderson and Issy van Randwyck in the latest Fascinating Aida show, 'It, Wit, Don't Give a Shit Girls', at the Vaudeville Theatre, London WC2, from 22 January to 15 February.

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