Education: Passed/failed: Arabella Weir
Thursday 22 January 1998
Does my heart beat fast in this? My father was a rising star in the diplomatic corps in Washington - he was eventually an ambassador - and I got into a nursery school in Washington. Then the family moved to Cairo where I went to the Sacre Coeur convent. This was run by nuns and we had to recite, in French, "My little heart beats so fast for Jesus Christ." As a family we weren't Catholic or religious but I have happy memories of Cairo.
Does my knuckle look hurt in this? I don't have happy memories of the French Lycee, which I went to when we came to London. It was a very strict school. I was drawing graphs one day; my hand got tired and I stopped drawing the line and began shading underneath. The teacher whacked me across the knuckles and said, "We always draw in the same direction."
Hut enough for you? When I was nine and a half my parents had split up and my brothers were at prep school, so I went alone with my father to Bahrain. I went to a school 15 miles away from our house in RAF Muharraq where there were 30 of us in a hut made of bits of wood. It was boiling hot, like 120 in the shade, and we worked from eight to 12 and then loafed around for the rest of the day. The teaching was not bad at all. I got my 11-plus there and came back to England.
Ant misbehavin'? Camden School for Girls was very high-achieving but it didn't nag. If you were a pain in the arse like I was, they didn't force you to do otherwise. These were the best school years of my life - but I was overweight and a lot of attention was focused on this, which added to the need to be the class clown. Through the older brother of a boy who fancied me, I became the singer in a band called Bazooka Joe; one member was Stuart Goddard, who became Adam Ant.
Does my mother look cross in this? My mother was a teacher at Camden and the proudest moment of my naughtiness was when she said to me, "I can't hold my head up in the staff room!" I thought, "Great!" I was putting time and effort into doing badly. I was suspended twice, once for smoking dope and once for swearing at a teacher or something. I prided myself on my ability to upset teachers. At a reunion 20 years later, I went up to Miss Peak, the music teacher, and she said, "You were the naughtiest girl I ever taught!"
Cashier point? I set out to spectacularly low-achieve - and I did. I only got three O-levels but they let me do three A-levels, which I enjoyed, and made me retake one of the O-levels, I think French. I then did a year at the Cafe Royal as a cashier and various odd jobs. I didn't do anything I should have done because I was in love with someone; I should have gone abroad. I did a diploma in dramatic arts for two years at [the then] Middlesex Polytechnic, which was more or less a complete waste of time. It's not like an English degree; you really need to work in the business, in the theatre. You can't teach someone to be funny.
Does my cheek look big in this? I'm working on my next novel, about three women and their friendships formed at Camden. I told the head that the title is "Onwards and Upwards", the school motto, and he said, "Cheeky!"
Interview by Jonathan Sale
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