Me and my school photo: Tessa Peake-Jones remembers being dreadful at sport and finding a passion for drama


By Laura Silverman

Last updated at 10:30 PM on 13th January 2012
Tessa Tessa, 54, is best known as Del Boy's girlfriend, Raquel, in Only Fools And Horses

This is me aged five on my first day at school.  I’m wearing my bottle-green uniform and standing at the end of the path to our house in Kenton, north-west London.

Mum was a civil servant at the Ministry of Defence and sent me to Kenmore Park Junior School in Harrow because she worked nearby.  We didn’t have a car, so for the first two years I rode on a seat on the back of her bike to get to school.

I felt quite insecure on busy roads.  At seven, I started cycling myself.  I had a moment of panic on my first day when I realised Mum wasn’t around, but the rest of my time there was very happy.

On my tenth birthday, my class left for a fortnight’s cruise to Norway, Sweden and Holland.  I’m an only child, so I loved being in a dormitory – I thought that’s what it must be like to have brothers and sisters.

In our last year at Kenmore, we put on a play.  It was the first time I’d acted and I was playing a cook.  Mum was ill and my dad wasn’t around – they were divorced – so no one at home could make me a costume.  Miss Woolacott, one of the teachers, ended up making me one in her lunch breaks.  I loved it all.

At 11, I went to Downer Grammar, up the road, and discovered there were things about school I didn’t like.  I was in the bottom set for maths and I was hopeless at science.  I also dreaded PE because I was always the last person to be picked for a team and I trailed behind in every race.

I remember traipsing round muddy hockey fields using my stick to protect my ankles from the other girls’ violent swings.  Every other week, I said it was my 'time of the month' to get out of it.

I wanted to be a dancer and I’d been going to dance class every evening since I was four, but when I was 14 I realised the other girls were much better at ballet than me.  I had neither the figure nor the talent.  So I turned to acting.

Tessa Tessa has a son and a daughter with her partner, the actor Douglas Hodge, and they live in Oxfordshire

When Mr Whittington, my English teacher, read Shakespeare, it came to life.  He encouraged us to use our imaginations.  I thought he was this wise old man because he had a beard.  He was probably in his 30s.  Once I got into drama, I was determined to be an actress.

I had a crush on Christopher Neame, who was in Colditz, my favourite TV programme. I found out he went to the Central School of Speech and Drama in London and I didn’t know any other way into the profession, so I thought I had to go there.  And because Mum didn’t have much money, I had to get a grant.  I needed five O-levels.  I worked my socks off and got eight.

My headmistress was horrified when I said I was leaving at 16, but there was nothing she could do.  I was incredibly single-minded – I never asked Mum, I just told her.

She’d been in amateur productions so she was totally supportive.  I left school and applied to Central.  Who knows what I’d have done if I'd been rejected.  Luckily,I got in and it all worked out.