Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Paul Oakenfold, DJ and producer
'I struggled with my dyslexia'
Thursday 13 October 2005
My schools did as much as they could. It's easy to blame other people; it's harder to look in the mirror and say, "It's me!". I wish that my English was better, and my pronunciation, too. When you look back at school, you wish you'd paid more attention. If I ever have children, how will I get this across?
My parents lived in Highbury but I was born in Mile End hospital - as you can tell from my pronunciation, I'm a true cockney. My father decided that it would be better if we moved out to Greenhithe, near Dartford in Kent, so we went from a from a built-up area to a place a minute's walk from the countryside. The struggle at my primary school there was about fitting in: all the other kids were local and I was from London.
I learnt to play the piano at seven or eight. My father, who worked for the London Evening News, distributing the papers, had a skiffle band and there was always music floating around. I remember that I was on holiday when Elvis died.
I was about 10 when we moved to Croydon because of my dad's job. At Archbishop Lanfranc School, I made some good friends and I'm still in touch with them to this day. We were a band of boys but not a band playing music. The English teacher was the most popular with me; he seemed a lot more down-to-earth, a cool teacher. I liked doing photography (I have always dabbled since then), and I liked cooking (I studied to be a chef for four years).
I think I got six GCSEs and then left; I wanted to cut loose. I don't blame the school. I never did as well at school as people, seeing what I have achieved since then, imagine I must have done. I'm dyslexic; I'm not sure they knew what it was then. I struggled. I really lost interest in school and was sometimes on the verge of getting into trouble, until my family background dragged me back.
I came to terms with my dyslexia when I left. My mother and father brought someone in for about six months; it did help a little. I worked at the Army & Navy Club as a chef, and also did a course on the theory and practical side of catering, for one day a week at Westminster Tech. Also, I started to help a friend who was a DJ in a Covent Garden club. Then I went to New York - for music, not as a chef - and started to work as an A&R man. I signed up Will Smith and Salt'n'Pepa.
Having not really learnt as much as I would have liked to at school, I would now like to do something to help children with dyslexia. For a series that has just finished on Radio Galaxy, I took a classic story such as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Oliver Twist or Dracula, and wrote a narrative for an actor or a pop star to perform. I also did the music. Each one-hour programme went out every Sunday for a month, and then we would do a new one.
My idea is: why not put these stories on to CD and send them to schools?
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