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My Mentor: Dermot O'Leary


The TV host remembers an inspirational teacher with a taste for the absurd

I didn’t go to a particularly good school.

It was good at getting people engaged and for helping you understand things like the rise and fall of socialism, but if you wanted a good mark in your biology GCSE, you could forget about it. But I did have lots of great teachers. There was an English teacher, who was also a poet, who chucked our Edith Sitwell books away in favour of something he thought was less rubbish. He was great. But my first real mentor was an amazing religious studies teacher called Bob Hastie.

He had a shock of long white hair, big glasses and a big moustache.

Classic Seventies and Eighties – he always had a really stern expression on his face and was like an old left-wing politician. Not so much in his politics, but in the way he carried himself and the way he spoke. He was an incredible orator.

He taught me about the importance of making a difference.

Bob would teach scripture, but his ethos was about social action. I’m pretty sure none of it was on the curriculum – I got a D or an E – but he taught us about the developing world, different governments and politics. He was a leader.He’d engage with you without even picking up a book for an hour. He really was an ‘O Captain, my captain’ type.

But he was punk rock, too.

I remember he bet one kid in my class, who we called Mouse, that if he got something wrong he’d have to eat dog food. Of course, Mouse got it wrong and then had to eat from a can of dog food. I couldn’t believe he actually followed through on it! He was a total rock star.

He taught me to use my anger.

Teaching is harder now, and teachers are not treated with nearly as much respect as they deserve. Bob, for me, was the first teacher to make me think outside the box, make me question and make me get angry about the world. When you’re 14, it doesn’t take much to get you riled up, but he would direct it and get you to use it positively. He died a few years back and myschool named a wing after him, which tells you all you need to know about how he affected people’s lives. He was a brilliant teacher.

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