Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Sandra Howard, writer and former model

'An armed guard took us to school'
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Sandra Howard, 66, had a long modelling career. She is the wife of Michael Howard, former leader of the Conservative Party. Next Tuesday she will be speaking at the Folkestone Literary Festival ( about Glass Houses, her first novel.

I did Africa about six times but I didn't do the United States. I don't think I ever did anything after the French Revolution. If you keep changing schools, you probably find the history and geography courses at the different schools don't coincide at all. I think I went to 13 schools, because my parents moved around the world; my father was an Air Force doctor specialising in tropical medicine.

My stammer was very inhibiting. It always made me a bit shy to come out with any opinions in class. Teachers very kindly didn't ask me to read out loud but that didn't help as in fact I wanted to. The first school I can remember was Lynton House in Maidenhead, where I remember being very happy. Then I went to a small private school near Market Drayton in Shropshire. The headmistress told my parents that nobody there had ever taken the grammar school entrance; but I did and went to Devizes Grammar School, which has since become a comprehensive. It was a wonderful experience and I had a wonderful boyfriend - I was only 11 - called Ego. We used to smoke Wills's Woodbines on the bus going to school and got into terrible trouble which put me off smoking for life. It was a very happy year.

Then I went to Croydon High, which was then, I think, a grammar school. It was a girls school and I don't remember it as well as Devizes because, well, it wasn't a co-ed. When I was 14, we went to Singapore. This was during the riots at the time of independence and to get to the Alexandra Grammar School I had to cross the island. We had an armed guard to take us to school, a poor young pimply soldier with his gun sticking out of the back of the truck. We nubile girls teased him and I still blush with shame.

My parents had to go back early in 1956 but I stayed there for my O-levels. I got some amazing mark in Latin, perhaps because I happened to get a piece of Virgil I had worked on before. I failed maths. You failed things much more easily then; that's my defence. And I didn't get on with the teacher. I had my 16th birthday on the troopship coming back. It was the first ship to be turned away from the Suez Canal after nationalisation by Nasser and we had to go round the Cape; it was a six-week voyage.

The Ursuline Convent in Brentwood, Essex, was wonderful. I started my A-levels in English, Latin and biology. One of the nuns thought I should aim for the Oxbridge entrance but a friend who wanted someone to share her flat in London persuaded me to leave school after a bit more than a year and take up modelling. My parents were both graduates - my mother was an Oxford scholar - but they didn't mind a bit; I hold it against them. In retrospect, I long to have gone to a university. It gives you a chip if you feel you haven't been properly educated. I did do the English A-level by correspondence course later but I was working so hard, writing essays while getting started as a photographic model, that I can't remember what happened in the end.

I haven't ever been that interested in clothes but I did a three-week modelling course at the Lucy Clayton Agency; you walk about with books on your head and roll about on the floor to try to reduce your hips. I went to see Norman Parkinson because someone had fallen sick and he said, "You'll do". He was a well-known photographer and that was a wonderful piece of luck. I worked through the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties. I also started doing a bit of journalism; I felt quite embarrassed saying I was a model.