PASSED/FAILED: Prue Leith

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The Independent Online
Prue Leith, 57, started Leith's Good Food Ltd, Leith's restaurant and Leith's School of Food and Wine, all of which she has recently sold. Her books include Leith's Cookery Bible. A former board member of British Rail, she is chairman of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.

Starter? When I was four or five I went to the nursery school of St Mary's, in Johannesburg. It was never called a convent but it was run by nuns - High Church Anglican nuns. I was an extraordinarily happy child. There was an old Coloured caretaker who had a record of "The Happy Wanderer" and we used to go into his shed to hear it; today there would be an outcry.

First course? Between the ages of six and nine, when my father was posted to London, I was a boarder at a school in Haywards Heath in Sussex. There was a black girl, probably from Sierra Leone or Nigeria; we felt we were different from the other girls and pretended we spoke "Africa"; in fact, it was gobbledegook.

Any complaints? I carved the name of a girl I hugely admired - Araminta McKissock, who was an absolute whiz at twirling round the 4ft-high bar in the school garden and landing on her feet - on to a wooden panel; the headmistress called the whole school together to ask who had done it, but I did not admit it. When I was 10 and back in South Africa, I wrote to the headmistress and confessed, with a huge feeling of relief.

Second course? When I was back at St Mary's, I remember gaining credence by pretending I knew Enid Blyton. Then people asked for her autograph, so I wrote "Enid Blyton", copied from the signature in her books, on my maths squared paper, and cut it out. But people said, "It's been cut out of your maths book!" I must have wanted to be found out.

Third course? I became a boarder at about 11. I lived very close and used to climb the tallest tree on the hockey pitch, from which I could see my street. Yet when I was later told that I was going to be a day boarder again, on account of being difficult, I slammed the door of the head nun's room, and a picture crashed to the ground, rather proving her point. My mother was a glamorous actress who, because she was working, didn't make cakes or come to the fetes. I wanted a fat mother, who made cakes. One day when I was 14 the headmistress asked her to talk to the school about theatre. I thought I'd die, and buried my head in my hands at the back of the hall. She was absolutely magical, and I came out treading on air with girls crowding round saying how marvellous it was to have a mother who was an actress.

Exams? I didn't do very well at my Junior Certificate (GCSE level); I got only 3 per cent for algebra. In "Matric", which was just under A-level standard, I got first-class results - to everybody's astonishment. I passed Africaans by reading Africaans magazines, which were full of love stories.

Afters? At the University of Johannesburg, I swapped from drama studies to stage design to French, and then left after two years. I persuaded my father to send me to France, to the Sorbonne, where I did a course in French civilisation and culture. But while I was meant to be studying Bonaparte I became more interested in boeuf bourguignon; I came to England and did the Cordon Bleu advanced course. I suppose I have a certificate for that. Otherwise, I only have a 25-yards swimming certificate

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