PASSED/FAILED: Emma Nicholson

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The Independent Online
Emma Nicholson, 55, is the former West Country Tory MP who crossed over to the Liberal Democrats. The author of Secret Society: Inside and Outside the Conservative Party, she stood down at the last election and is seeking to become an MEP. She is executive chairman of the Amar Appeal, which assists 150,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, and a senior associate member of St Anthony's, Oxford.

Early days? I started school at three-and-a-half, in a private class held by a travelling teacher, Miss Booth. There were between 12 and 20 of us, local farmers' children - my father, the MP for Farnham, Surrey, had a farm - and each term it was in a different parents' house, sometimes our house. I adored it.

Rising star? By the time I was seven I was bored, and persuaded my parents to send me to an all-girls preparatory school in Sussex. I was exceptionally lucky; there was good teaching and I got to grips with subjects Miss Booth hadn't covered, such as French and Latin.

House of Common Entrance? I passed the 11-plus and would have given anything to go to the local grammar school, but I also did Common Entrance and, when I was 10 went to St Mary's, Wantage, a fee-paying convent school run by Anglican nuns.

The education was not good. It was very patchy: no science, no maths worth talking about. When the school inspector came round, he threatened to strike it off the register. Their field of expertise was practical worship and philosophical discussion about God. Music was well taught. I learnt plainsong and had lessons from the Wantage organist, who was a blind man and a composer.

I concentrated on Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic and started reading texts of the Old and New Testament in the original.

Point of exam order? I came top in exams. I did seven O-Levels, the maximum allowed. There were only three or four of us in the sixth form. I did music and history A-levels; they wouldn't let me do Religious Instruction as well, as two A-levels was the maximum.

Point of information? My eyesight went when I was 11 - poor Mum had very bad measles when she was pregnant with me - and I was allowed to do only an hour's reading a day. I had five or six years of wandering around corridors.

Budget deficit? At 16 I went to the Royal Academy of Music, where my hearing problem was discovered: I am severely - two-thirds to three-quarters - deaf. It was a nightmare, a huge struggle, but I hung on there and left at 20 with my LRAM and ARCM.

I did a complete spin and became accepted as a law student at the Inner Temple; but I couldn't get a grant. Then, in 1961, the early days of computer programming, I did a 9am-to-6pm exam with ICL and to my astonishment - they really wanted maths degrees - I did 10 years in computer software design. Within a year I was one of their teachers, and wrote teaching manuals.

Top of the debating class? At school we had no debates, and they didn't have a political society.

One of my cousins - I have 93, most of them in the House of Commons! - said recently that I was always asking questions, far too many questionsn