Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Carol Smillie

'Academically, I didn't shine'


Carol Smillie, 46, presented Wheel of Fortune, Changing Rooms, Dream Holiday Homes and Smillie's People. She currently presents STV's Postcode Challenge. She also hosted A Brush with Fame, the ITV portrait-painting competition, and is a columnist and a model. She has just launched the Learning and Skills Council's "Skills Street" campaign, which offers advice on skills to the residents of a street.

My two earliest memories are of having my nappy changed – and, when put in my pram to go to sleep, of being frightened by the wallpaper. (Yes, even then!) I had a fairly idyllic childhood. We didn't have a babysitter because my parents didn't go out without me.

I lived next door to Simshill Primary School, Glasgow, and was desperate to go there. I loved it, but I remember getting into huge trouble for using an eraser, which you weren't supposed to do because they wanted to see where you'd gone wrong. I made a mistake, rubbed it out with a dirty rubber, then used a wet finger, making a hole in the paper. I couldn't sleep for worrying about it. I got hauled in front of the class and humiliated. After that, I just used a better rubber.

My friends were going on to the local secondary school, but my parents wanted me to go to the fee-paying Hutchesons' Girls' Grammar, aka "Hutchesons' Grammar School for Young Ladies". Were we young ladies? By today's standards, we were angels! I knew it was a huge financial effort to send me there, so I had to knuckle down. Academically I didn't shine, but I learnt confidence and a lot about life. There were some very bright children, but I wasn't one of them. The school guided them towards the professions, which weren't for me, but I didn't feel a failure. My children are now at Hutchesons', and I tell them, "I don't care as long as you give it your best shot".

I got seven O-levels – fabric and fashion was one – and I scraped some of them. I left the following year with three Highers, but I needed five to get into Glasgow School of Art, so I went to Langside College to get the other two. I only got one. There was too much freedom. So I went for another year to Cardonald College, where I didn't know a soul and got my head down.

I finally got to Glasgow School of Art when I was 18. I spent the first year not sure it was what I wanted to do. There were people with green hair and pink shoes, on another planet. I got a job in a cocktail bar and took up modelling, which fitted around my studies. My tutor was into abstract art, throwing paint at the wall, etc. I wasn't. Another tutor, a lovely man, said, "If I were you, I'd stick with this modelling malarkey. You can do art at any time". Maybe it was his way of saying, "I don't think you've got what it takes".

I left at the end of the first year. My parents, however, thought that modelling was a very dodgy career choice. Was I going on the game?

These days, I go to art school once a week, to do life drawing and portraits. The pressure is off, so it's purely for pleasure.

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