Outside of my amazing parents (foster carers/adopters of troubled children/selfless angels), the most influential person in my life was my drama teacher. To preserve his modesty and my identity, I'll not name him here. Instead, I'll use the pseudonym 'Mr Garbutt' - an in-joke which i'm sure he'd recognise were he ever to read this piece.
Mr Garbutt was everything I'd like to be as a teacher - and lots of things I'd not be allowed to be in the modern profession. As well as being my drama teacher throughout school, he went on to be my Theatre Studies teacher at A-Level. I loved both subjects and achieved an A grade in both - thanks in no small part to his excellent teaching.
Far more important than his skill in the drama studio, though, was the influence he exerted on me outside of class. It's not mere speculation to suggest that he saw something of himself in me - I was a bright kid from a largely uneducated, working class family, just like him. For all their love and affection, my parents could only nurture my intellect to a certain degree. Mr Garbutt recognised this and immediately began the process of stretching me and filling me with a love of books, language and culture which has burned in me ever since.
He furnished me with novels, albums, videos and dog-eared copies of plays. He introduced me to Themroc, Kurt Vonnegut and Harold Pinter, ignited my love of Shakespeare (and The Tempest in particular) and gave me my first taste of Lou Reed. He encouraged me to read a play every week, told me that Antony Sher's The Year of the King was the greatest book about acting ever written (it is - and was discussed with relish with my PGCE interviewer) and it was Mr Garbutt who put me in front of audience for the first time.
From the age of eleven, I was in every school production until I left at eighteen. I was Ariel, Reverend Hale, a cavalcade of colourful characters in Mr Garbutt's original productions and many more. I performed at the National Student Drama Festival, helped run his theatre workshop for younger kids and even returned for a guest appearance in their play after I'd left school.
Further than our 'working' relationship, we had a personal one, too. Post-production parties would be held at his house so the (largely sixth-form) casts of his plays could gather for drinks and food. As I got older, the pair of us actually went out for a meal together a couple of times - probably the first time I'd ever been to a restaurant or eaten Chinese food. I once met him for a chat one evening (he was rightly concerned about some of my extra-curricular activities) and ended up back at his house having a Southern Comfort and watching a documentary about the Manic Street Preachers.
Just as I was set to become the first person in my family to go to university, the whole system of student finance changed: grants abolished, fees introduced and huge loans. I had one of my many crises of confidence: my parents couldn't afford to support me so I couldn't go. What was Mr Garbutt's reaction to this? First coffee. Then counselling. And when that failed, he made me pack a bag, stuck me in his car and drove me to Edinburgh to see an ex-student of his. We stayed in his digs, got a guided tour of the campus, drank in the student union - and I came away invigorated, determined and desperate to escape my tiny town and sample the big city.
I haven't done justice here to the lasting influence Mr Garbutt has had on me. He shaped my life in a way which was above and beyond what ordinary teachers do for their students. Of course, our relationship would be deemed wholly inappropriate now and he'd probably be investigated, castigated or worse. But without him, I wouldn't be who I am today. And although we're still friends over twenty years since we first met, I have never really thanked him.