What I learnt at school: Bill Bailey

  • What I learnt at school: Bill Bailey

Bill Bailey was an academic high achiever – but the pull of performance and an inspirational teacher took him in an unexpected direction

My overwhelming memory of secondary school is one of conflict. Constant battles with teachers. It was me really kicking against this pre-ordained path that teachers thought I was going to follow. I went to King Edwards, an independent school in Bath, where I did very well indeed in academic subjects; in many regards I was a star pupil to a lot of those teachers. And then I started to perform in this school review and discovered comedy and played in a band; I realised there was more to my adolescent life than studying. That’s where I think I really came into a lot of conflict with teachers and probably made life hard for myself. But it was great fun, I made some good friends and probably it set me on a path to doing what I do now.

The one teacher who really stands out in my memory is my music teacher Linda Phipps. I was the only student studying A-level music in the school and I had this fantastic one-on-one tuition. It was just brilliant. When you’ve got one-to-one tuition there is a tremendous amount of focus, and you can build up a great friendship. She encouraged me to try for things that I probably wouldn’t have done if not for her. She inspired confidence in me, in my own performance. She encouraged me to play a recital at The Holburne Museum in Bath with an orchestra, she urged me to take the diploma in music rather than just the grades and she suggested I go onto to the associateship (I received an Associate Diploma from the London College of Music). Linda was a great influence on me at that time and I realised then that music was always something which was always going to be a part of my life.

School was also where I built my confidence as a performer. Linda was a great one at saying ‘You can do this!’ But I, like many others in their teenage years, was not blessed with great confidence. At that age you underestimate your abilities, you’re not confident for whatever reason, it’s an awkward time; so you’d naturally perhaps think ‘I don’t want to do that!’ You don’t want to risk humiliation so you won’t put yourself out there, but she was the one who really instilled confidence in me. And that sense of belief in my own worth and my own abilities is something that has lasted far beyond my time at school.

I remember stepping out at The Royal Albert Hall with the BBC Concert Orchestra in front of a huge crowd – we were filming it for a DVD – and even in moments like that I would remember Linda. I would remember her saying ‘You can do this. You’re good enough to do this.’ So I think teachers like that are very rare and their influence, their value, is immeasurable.

I would hope there’s always an opportunity for kids to explore musical instruments in school. To develop an ability and find something they can play and enjoy, because that’s something which is then a gift for the rest of your life.

The only concern I have is that music is often seen as little more than a pastime. I mean, it doesn’t have to be career focused, although I imagine there are far more opportunities now than there was when I was at school – the opportunity to create music and make music is a lot more accessible now. Just a laptop and a programme and you can create all kinds of wonders. But the study of music has to be valued not just for the fact that you might get a career out of it, but because it enriches your life; and the benefits of that you can’t quantify.

About the author

Bill Bailey is a comedian, and classically trained musician. His latest live show, Limboland, is touring until 2 July 2016. Bill will be performing Limboland at London’s Vaudeville Theatre from 10 Dec 2015 - 17 Jan 2016. Full info and tickets at BillBailey.co.uk

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