'I had a pathological problem with authority'

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The Independent Online

Tim Smit is the author of The Lost Gardens of Heligan, just out in paperback. He gave up the music business to uncover a Cornish estate abandoned for 70 years. It was featured in a Channel 4 television series and is now one of Cornwall's most successful tourist attractions. He is also chief executive of the Eden Project near St Austell, the world's largest greenhouse, where an exhibition on "The Big Build" opens on 15 May.

Primary school: My dad is Dutch. When we went to Turkey, where he was the KLM (Dutch airline) general manager, I went to an American school in Ankara. My only memory of that school was of kissing a girl in a cupboard.

At seven I was absolutely fluent in Turkish. From eight to 12 I went to Vine Hall near Robertsbridge in Sussex. Was I happy there? Up to a point. I was quite sickly and homesick to start with. I had a pathological problem with authority. I will do anything for anybody - if they ask me. If they tell me, my whole body goes rigid.

I have two especially vivid memories. The first was stealing strawberries from the garden of one of the masters. The other was fishing for carp from a pond in an overgrown garden, which I think belonged to the Latin master. It was in an enclosed space and you had to cut your way through vast swathes of undergrowth.

But I can also remember cheating to win a prize for seeing the most birds. One of the teachers, a Cornishman fascinated by nature, called me into his study to say that I had described the Lesser Spotted Hooper (or whatever it was called) very well - unfortunately for me, it hadn't been seen in Britain for 30 years!

Secondary school: Then I went to Cranbrook School in Kent. I loathed that. The Dutch tradition is quite egalitarian and it came as a shock to mix with people who believe in privilege without merit. I was lucky to be big and good at games, but I was shaken by the cruelty to people not good at sport or having what were considered drippy interests.

I was a smoker; most of the rugby team were smokers, because you were fit and could run away from the masters.

I played the piano, which was how I later made my living, and we started a group; I think we called ourselves Caliban. We made a fortune by starting the Folk, Blues and Progressive Club. I rented the Big Hall and raised 75 quid to hire a band called Comus.

The next band we got, for £100, was Procul Harum, who were in the doldrums after their hit single "A Whiter Shade of Pale". Then we had Genesis and a number of other bands.

We made so much money for the club that the economics master went off to Hong Kong with the cash.

We used to sneak off to the Temple in Wardour Street (London W1) which had heavy bands like Uriah Heep. It only opened at midnight, so we would sneak down the school fire escape, drive for two hours and leave the club at five.

I got eight or so O-levels and A-levels in economics (A grade), English (D) and history (B).

University: I took a year off and went to Durham to read archaeology and anthropology, which eventually became a general degree; I think I got a 2.2.

I had a rock band at Durham. It was called Cubes. We were trying to make a bit of money so we put a band together for a May Ball. The Punk boom started in my third year and we went into that. I remember playing the City Hall, Newcastle; there was a band called The Adverts and in a dressing room we put chalk marks on the base player's instrument so that she knew where to put her fingers.

Jontysale@aol.com

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