Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Paul Oakenfold, DJ and producer

'I struggled with my dyslexia'

Jonathan Sale
Thursday 13 October 2005 00:00

My schools did as much as they could. It's easy to blame other people; it's harder to look in the mirror and say, "It's me!". I wish that my English was better, and my pronunciation, too. When you look back at school, you wish you'd paid more attention. If I ever have children, how will I get this across?

My parents lived in Highbury but I was born in Mile End hospital - as you can tell from my pronunciation, I'm a true cockney. My father decided that it would be better if we moved out to Greenhithe, near Dartford in Kent, so we went from a from a built-up area to a place a minute's walk from the countryside. The struggle at my primary school there was about fitting in: all the other kids were local and I was from London.

I learnt to play the piano at seven or eight. My father, who worked for the London Evening News, distributing the papers, had a skiffle band and there was always music floating around. I remember that I was on holiday when Elvis died.

I was about 10 when we moved to Croydon because of my dad's job. At Archbishop Lanfranc School, I made some good friends and I'm still in touch with them to this day. We were a band of boys but not a band playing music. The English teacher was the most popular with me; he seemed a lot more down-to-earth, a cool teacher. I liked doing photography (I have always dabbled since then), and I liked cooking (I studied to be a chef for four years).

I think I got six GCSEs and then left; I wanted to cut loose. I don't blame the school. I never did as well at school as people, seeing what I have achieved since then, imagine I must have done. I'm dyslexic; I'm not sure they knew what it was then. I struggled. I really lost interest in school and was sometimes on the verge of getting into trouble, until my family background dragged me back.

I came to terms with my dyslexia when I left. My mother and father brought someone in for about six months; it did help a little. I worked at the Army & Navy Club as a chef, and also did a course on the theory and practical side of catering, for one day a week at Westminster Tech. Also, I started to help a friend who was a DJ in a Covent Garden club. Then I went to New York - for music, not as a chef - and started to work as an A&R man. I signed up Will Smith and Salt'n'Pepa.

Having not really learnt as much as I would have liked to at school, I would now like to do something to help children with dyslexia. For a series that has just finished on Radio Galaxy, I took a classic story such as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Oliver Twist or Dracula, and wrote a narrative for an actor or a pop star to perform. I also did the music. Each one-hour programme went out every Sunday for a month, and then we would do a new one.

My idea is: why not put these stories on to CD and send them to schools?

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