Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Zoe Salmon, former Blue Peter presenter and Dancing on Ice contestant

'I got a C once – I was devastated!'


Zoe Salmon, 29, who took a year out of her student career to win Miss Northern Ireland, is competing in ITV1's 'Dancing on Ice'. She is launching energy company nPower's Little Green Fingers campaign for four- to seven-year-olds. Its schools competition to win 50 solar-powered "eco greenhouses" closes on 13 March (www.npower. com/littlegreenfingers).

I'm embarrassed because I got driven to Kilmaine Primary in Bangor, County Down – half a mile. The most un-green thing! I didn't even know what the environment was until I was 15.

I was very well-behaved. I was never even asked to leave the classroom for 10 minutes. I was called "the smiler" by the teachers, who thought I was up to something. But I never was; I was just being polite. The first award I won was when I was 10, for handwriting. (My older sister won all the handwriting cups. She studied typography and created her own font.)

I got the 11-Plus at Grade 1 and went to Glenlola Collegiate, the big grammar-school for girls in Bangor. I loved it. You felt like a grown-up: you had to walk to classes by yourself – without a teacher – and do new subjects. Maths and science were my weaknesses but I never got less than As and Bs. I got a C once in my life – and the devastation of that! Then Mrs McCracken, our chemistry teacher, said that for the same piece of work I'd got an A for effort: yes! I got 10 GCSEs: three A*s, four As, three Bs, and a beautiful silver teapot for having the school's highest mark in home economics. My sewing was second to none. And I won a cake-decorating competition.

I loved Sixth Form. In my A-levels, I got an A in English literature, a B in geography and an A in home economics. I grew up in the era of LA Law and wanted to be a lawyer. I'm a bit of a thespian at heart, so the court would be my stage. We used to drive past Queen's University in Belfast, which is the most beautiful building; it screamed education and brilliance. I was impressed by the fact it was on every £5 note; it was where the clever people went and it was on my doorstep. I went up to Queen's at 18.

After the first-year exams I took my gap year and won Miss Northern Ireland. I got an amazing salary for going round the world doing catwalk shows. It would have been tempting to carry on, but I wanted the security of a career. I went back to university and got a 2:1.

In Northern Ireland, there was only one place you could study to become a lawyer, the Institute of Professional Legal Studies. They only take 95 entrants a year on the solicitors course from the UK. It's a case of sitting two three-hour exams. I couldn't believe it when I got straight in: it was the most clever I ever felt. I got a scholarship with a firm of solicitors and worked there during the vacation and one day a week in term. I had my own cases. I was ready to take on the world – but I decided to do that in London at Television Centre.

I miss the law. I use it all the time. When in a shop for a refund, I'm always reminding people of the 1974 Sale of Goods Act. And when I'm given my contracts, it's me who writes notes for the lawyers.

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