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My best teacher - Bradley Wiggins

Features | Published in TES Newspaper on 2 July, 2010 | By: Hannah Frankel

Generally, his teachers dismissed his cycling ambitions, but one treated the future Olympic champ with respect and compassion

I would have to nominate my old PE teacher, Graham Hatch, at St Augustine’s High School in Kilburn, north London.

He was from Wigan and by far and away the nicest of the bunch. I wasn’t brilliant at school, although I excelled outside the classroom at cycling or playing football, rugby and basketball. Mr Hatch recognised that I was a fairly good cyclist and he encouraged me.

When I told most other teachers that I wanted to win an Olympic gold in cycling, they dismissed it as crazy. They said: “How many inner-city kids do that?”

Mr Hatch was different. He took an interest, asked me about my cycling and generally encouraged me. I think he and my mum recognised that there were worse things I could have been involved in, like messing around with the rough kids on my estate.

His encouragement was never that specific, but it was so rare to get any kind of recognition at that school, so it stood out. It was a pretty rough school back then. There was always fighting with the kids at the neighbouring school - St George’s, which is where Philip Lawrence was stabbed to death (in 1995).

I probably drove most teachers mad in the classroom: I was always messing around and being the class joker. I didn’t have much to aspire to. Cycling gave me everything I have.

From the moment I started to race when I was about 11 or 12, I fell in love with it. I gave up on school in Year 8 - I thought I knew it all already. I just didn’t want to be there. I struggled with concentration in class, and would rather be out training. I stopped attending or was late to school and got into trouble, but at least I had a purpose.

Mr Hatch is still at the school, although now as deputy head. My brother, who is eight years younger than me, is a teacher there now as well, so I still have a link to the school. I went back there about 10 years ago to hand out Duke of Edinburgh awards and saw Mr Hatch then.

He is proud of me, I think. He has seen me on TV and in the papers and he says he has read my book. He is the sort of man who is pleased with any former pupil’s success - it is nice to see former pupils achieve something.

Mr Hatch is a stone-faced, ex-military man, probably about 50 years old now, who could be very strict. But a lot of us pupils respected him. He always gave up his own time to run after-school clubs and was an important male role model to us. He was like an older brother who we could look up to and respect.

There was a real “them and us” stance at the school. The school really ascribed to the stick mentality. The staff were constantly warning us: “If you don’t do this or that, you’ll end up on the dole.” They instilled fear about what we would do next and it always felt as if life wouldn’t really start until we left school.

But I was already doing what I wanted to do. I realised that I did have choices in life, and they weren’t the same ones the teachers told me about.

Mr Hatch was the only one who really cared for us and was concerned about what we would do in the future. He didn’t mind what motivated us as long as it didn’t have a negative impact. He treated us as humans and respected our choices. It was very important to me that at least one teacher took my dreams seriously.

Bradley Wiggins won gold medals at the Athens and Beijing Olympics and is a member of Team Sky in this year’s Tour de France, which starts tomorrow. He is backing Sky Ride 2010, 12 mass participation cycling events across the UK this summer (www.goskyride.com). He was talking to Hannah Frankel.


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