Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Allegra McEvedy, chef, writer, broadcaster and restaurateur

'School was a golden time – until I was 17'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Allegra McEvedy MBE, 38, was one of the presenters of BBC2's Economy Gastronomy and is co-author of the book of the series. She is also a co-founder of the nine award-winning Leon restaurants. She will be speaking at the National Everywoman Conference on 18 November at the Hotel Russell, London (

We made some rock buns at my state school but in my private schools I did no cookery; perhaps this was a feminist backlash on their part. I was at a state school until I was eight, St Paul's Primary on Hammersmith Broadway, west London, by the flyover. I loved it. It was the only mixed school I went to; I've always been a tomboy and my best friends were boys.

I sat exams for Bute House, which is the preparatory school for St Paul's and also in Hammersmith, but they seemed more like a chat. My mother said, "Don't mention Enid Blyton!" I got in. I used to stand at my front door with my bag waiting to go to school, because the lunches were so good. At that age all you've got to be is confident and good at sports; I had no nerves and I won all the prizes at athletics. I ended up as "president" – head girl.

I sat exams for St Paul's, Godolphin & Latimer – and Putney High, where the headmistress showed me a Dutch Master and a Picasso: I said I didn't like Picasso's Blue Period. Shockingly precocious, but I had already been round every major European art gallery with my father. At the St Paul's exams, we had a chemistry lesson. The teacher demonstrated static electricity by making my hair stand on end like a giant Afro and there was a little test at the end. I got in.

I was the last year to sit O-levels (my mother was the first) and I got three As, six Bs and a couple of Cs. It was a golden time, until I was 17, when I found out I was gay and my mum died on the operating table.

It went tits up after that. I bunked off school a lot. I was emanating hormones like a machine gun. The chaplain had a sticky conversation with me: "The mothers have asked me to have a word with you about your relationship with their daughters." St Paul's and I lived not very happily with each other for a year until I was thrown out.

Five weeks before my A-level exams, I got pulled out of my Latin lesson and I saw my dad sitting in the high mistress's room. I thought, "You've really done it this time." I got frogmarched out of school. It was most unfair: I hadn't done anything particularly bad that day! But she did say to him, "It's always the ones who are troublesome at school who have the most interesting lives." Lovely, consoling words.

Then my dad pulled out a copy of The Naughtiest Girl in the School by Enid Blyton. I still treasure it. He found me a crammer and I sat my A-levels. I got B in history, B in Latin and C in physics. I went to the Cordon Bleu School in Marylebone Lane and came out with a diploma. Later, whilst working at the River Café, I did evening classes to get the Higher Certificate from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust.

I have been asked to talk at the Everywoman Conference in November about making it in the business world, which I'm a little nervous about as I'm not really a businesswoman as such; but I suppose that my qualification is my product – which is me. An even more improbable invitation came last year from St Paul's, to talk to the sixth-form girls about careers. I was subsequently told that they have a gay and bisexual group. I thought, "My, things have changed!"