Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Simon Weston, broadcaster and former soldier

'I didn't turn up for my O-level exams'
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The Independent Online

Simon Weston OBE, 47, is the former Welsh Guardsman who suffered 46 per cent burns when RFA 'Sir Galahad' was bombed in Bluff Cove during the Falklands War. He is a public speaker and charity fundraiser, although his own charity, Weston Spirit, recently ceased trading. He has been the subject of six BBC documentaries, has presented his own radio series, and written three books about his experiences as well as two novels. 'A Nod from Nelson', his first children's book, came out this year



My earliest memories are of Singapore, where my father was posted with the RAF, and I saw fishermen coming in after being attacked by pirates. The first school I remember was Llanfabon Infants in Nelson, South Wales. I didn't like it from the start, particularly standing in my underpants and vest for inoculation.

Then I went to Llancaiach Junior School. I remember not overtly enjoying that. I liked being with the other kids, but I've never been able to pay attention when people were teaching parrot-fashion: "This is this and that is that, and this is what you copy out." I would put my head on the desk and fall fast asleep.

At 10, I took an exam for those who were borderline for grammar school. I failed because, on the art project, my scores weren't good enough. They wanted us to draw shade and light. I liked cowboy films so I drew a scene at a bar, with short shadows from coins and the long shadow of a hand reaching for a bottle. The teacher just ripped it up. I'll never forget that. I thought, "Oh well, sod you!".

Things were fine at Graddfa Secondary Modern, although on my first day I got strangled – a guy picked me up in the corridor. (We met again in the Welsh Guards, when the arrangement was, shall we say, slightly altered. He didn't remember me and had no idea why I gave him a thump. Bullies don't prosper!)

I practised to be in the brass band and played rugby for the first time. I enjoyed metal- and woodwork. But after 12 months, Graddfa amalgamated with a grammar school and turned into a comprehensive, now Lewis School, Pengam, split between two sites four miles apart. There was a lot of fighting, and street gangs would arrive at school and there'd be pitched battles. It was a dangerous place.

Things got so disrupted I didn't enjoy it, and teachers tended to be more interested in the grammar-school boys. I've never been very good at maths, but I did like physics because it had to be explained; it resonated with me. I liked chemistry, though I was not very good at it.

If a teacher's excited, you're excited. I can't do dry learning. The history teacher was Norman West, a tough, no-nonsense character who loved his subject. It worked for me, and I'll always thank him for that. I loved history. If you know where you've been, you know where you're going and where you don't want to go: we don't want the Holocaust again.

I regret not sticking to my education, but it was confused. At 14 I was working as a metal fabricator. There was that much truanting going on that they'd be lucky to catch anyone. I used to go in every now and then; nobody said anything. I didn't turn up for the O-level exams. I regret not having the bits of paper that show I'm as intelligent as other people, but I've proved that I'm intelligent enough to get by in life. I got into a spot of bother and joined the Army. There was education there and I enjoyed it because it was relevant to my career and we were treated as adults – but if you didn't get it right, you could end up with a thump!

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