From the age of three, all I wanted to be was on television. My dad was a Radio 4 newsreader. He was a friend of Valerie Singleton and I used to go to Television Centre to watch Blue Peter being broadcast.
For a year I went to Robinsfield Infants, the local state school in St John's Wood, north London. One of my memories is of a girl in a navy-blue coat running towards a dinner lady in the playground and calling out: "A ladybird has gone between my nail and my finger." I thought: "There isn't room."
I got into King Alfred's, a co-ed, progressive school in Hampstead. My mother had been there in the war but had then been evacuated. I absolutely loved it; I cried during the holidays. It was an incredible place; I think that all schools should be based on its philosophy. You were not told who was top or bottom and you called teachers by their first names. At first, you didn't have marks. I wasn't very good at maths but they didn't say: "Let's drop it." You discussed it with the teachers.
I was a polar bear in The Snow Queen and a mock turtle in Alice in Wonderland. I was a deeply, deeply shy child and an even more shy teenager. (It didn't help that I had buck teeth. When I was 11 a boy called Anthony did a cartoon picture of me labelled "The Gaby Monster". He got such a shock when I sobbed that he tore it up and I think he did a "sorry" letter.) But once you're acting, the shyness goes away.
By the time you got to your exams, you got marks. I took seven O-levels and got five: drama, history, art, English language and literature, and also maths CSE. We were one of the first years to do drama O-levels.
My mother was strict about me finishing my education and then going to drama school. I needed two A-levels for drama school and did history and sociology. I absolutely loved sociology but I hated history. I'm not a crammer, I'm not an academic. I'm a complete and utter daydreamer. I passed sociology and I think I got an E in history. I couldn't tell you what I learnt in history but I can still remember what I learnt in sociology.
I did my Bristol Old Vic audition and was offered a place – but for the following year. When I did my audition for Guildford School of Acting, they said they would let me know within two weeks and rang me that afternoon with an offer. I thoroughly loved my three years at Guildford. The first year they tear you apart in a healthy way, the second year you get slowly put back together and in the third year you know what you want.
I was a rarity, I wanted to be a presenter as well as an actor. In the first year a rather strange tutor asked us: "What is your flight plan?" The others said: "The RSC and the National." I said: "I would like to be a children's TV presenter and in musicals in which I don't have to dance." She said: "If you get on TV, I'd be so surprised I'd probably hang myself."
When I met her recently, she told me: "It's come back to haunt me."Reuse content